Skip to main content

Full text of "Rousseau = 2nd Discourse [ Masters]"

See other formats

lie goes back to his equals. 
See note (p), pp. 225-26. 





Non in depravatis, sed in his quae bene 
secundum naturam se habent, considerandum 
est quid sit naturale. 

Aristotle, Politics, L.i 1 


1 The editor’s footnotes to the Second Discourse are on 
pp. 2:9-48. 





Being convinced that only the virtuous citizen may 
properly give his fatherland those honors which it may 
acknowledge, I have worked for thirty years to deserve 
to offer you public homage; and as this happy occasion 
partially supplements what my efforts have been unable 
to accomplish, I believed I might be permitted here to 
follow the zeal that prompts me, rather than the right 
that ought to be my authorization. 2 Having had the good 
fortune to be born among you, how could I meditate 
upon the equality nature established among men, and 
upon the inequality they have instituted, without think' 
ing of the profound wisdom with which both, happily 
combined in this State, contribute, in the manner most 
approximate to natural law and most favorable to so¬ 
ciety, to the maintenance of public order and the 
happiness of individuals? While seeking the best max¬ 
ims that good sense could dictate concerning the con¬ 
stitution of a government, I was so struck to see them all 
in practice in yours that even had I not been bom 
within your walls, I should have believed myself unable 
to dispense with offering this picture of human society 
to that people which, of all others, seems to me to 
possess society’s greatest advantages and to have best 
prevented its abuses. 

If I had to choose my birthplace, I would have 

7 8 


chosen a society of a size limited by the extent of human 
faculties—that is, limited by the possibility of being 
well governed—and where, each being adequate to his 
job, no one would have been constrained to commit to 
others the functions with which he was charged; a state 
where, all the individuals knowing one another, neither 
the obscure maneuvers of vice nor the modesty of vir¬ 
tue could be hidden from the notice and judgment of 
the public, and where that sweet habit of seeing and 
knowing one another turned love of the fatherland into 
love of the citizens rather than love of the soil. 

I would have wished to be bom in a country where 
the sovereign and the people could have only one and 
the same interest, so that all movements of the machine 
always tended only to the common happiness. Since 
that would not be possible unless the people and the 
sovereign were the same person, it follows that I would 
have wished to be bom under a democratic govern¬ 
ment, wisely tempered. 

I would have wished to live and die free, that is to say 
so subject to the laws that neither I nor anyone else 
could shake off their honorable yoke: that salutary and 
gentle yoke, which the proudest heads bear with all the 
more docility because they are suited to bear no other. 

I would therefore have wished that no one in the 
State could declare himself above the law and that no 
one outside could impose any law the State was obliged 
to recognize. For whatever the constitution of a gov¬ 
ernment may be, if a single man is found who is not 
subject to the law, all the others are necessarily at his 
discretion (a); and if there is a national chief and 

(a) Rousseau’s notes to the Second Discourse will be 
found on pp. 182-228. 

80/ second discourse 

another foreign chief, whatever division of authority 
they may make, it is impossible for both of them to be 
well obeyed and for the state to be well governed. 

I would not have wished to live in a newly instituted 
republic, however good its laws might be, for fear 
that—the government, perhaps constituted other¬ 
wise than would be necessary for the moment, 
and being unsuited to the new citizens or the 
citizens to the new government—the State would 
be subject to be disturbed and destroyed almost 
from its birth. For freedom is like those solid and 
rich foods or those hearty wines, which are proper to 
nourish and fortify robust constitutions habituated to 
them, but which overpower, ruin, and intoxicate the 
weak and delicate who are unsuited for them. Once 
peoples are accustomed to masters, they are no longer 
able to do without them. If they tty to shake off the 
yoke, they move all the farther away from freedom be¬ 
cause, mistaking for freedom an unbridled license which 
is its opposite, their revolutions almost always deliver 
them to seducers who only make their chains heavier. 
The Roman people itself, that model of all free peoples, 
was not capable of governing itself on emerging from 
the oppression of the Tarquins. Debased by slavery and 
the ignominious labors the Tarquins had imposed on it, 
it was at first only a stupid mob that needed to be 
handled and governed with the greatest wisdom, so that, 
growing accustomed little by little to breathe the salu¬ 
tary air of freedom, those souls, enervated or rather 
brutalized under tyranny, acquired by degrees that 
severity of morals and that spirited courage which even¬ 
tually made them the most respectable of all peoples. I 
would therefore have sought for my fatherland a happy 


and tranquil Republic, whose antiquity was in a way 
lost in the darkness of time, which had experienced only 
those attacks suited to display and strengthen courage 
and love of fatherland in its inhabitants, and where 
the citizens, long accustomed to prudent independ¬ 
ence, were not only free but worthy of being so. 

I would have wished to choose for myself a father- 
land diverted by its fortunate impotence from the fierce 
love of conquests, and safeguarded by an even more 
fortunate location from the fear of becoming itself the 
conquest of another State; a free city, situated among 
several peoples none of whom had an interest in invad¬ 
ing it, while each had an interest in preventing the 
others from invading it themselves; in a word, a Repub¬ 
lic that did not tempt the ambition of its neighbors, 
and that could reasonably count on their help if neces¬ 
sary. It follows that, in such a fortunate position, it 
would have had nothing to fear except from itself; and 
that, if its citizens were trained in the use of arms, it 
would have been to maintain in them that warlike 
ardor and that spirited courage which suit freedom so 
well and whet the appetite for it, rather than from 
the necessity to provide for their own defense. 

I would have sought a country where the right of 
legislation was common to all citizens; for who can 
know better than they under what conditions it suits 
them to live together in the same society? But I would 
not have approved of plebiscites like those of the 
Romans, where the chiefs of the State and those most 
interested in its preservation were excluded from the 
deliberations on which its safety often depended, and 
where, by an absurd inconsistency, the magistrates were 
deprived of the rights enjoyed by the ordinary citizens. 

82 / second discourse 

On the contrary', I would have desired that, in order 
to stop the selfish and ill-conceived projects and the 
dangerous innovations that finally ruined the Athenians, 
everyone did not have the power to propose new laws 
according to his fancy; that this right belonged exclu¬ 
sively to the magistrates; that even they used it with 
so much caution that the people, on its side, was so 
hesitant in giving its consent to these laws, and that 
their promulgation could only be done with so much 
solemnity, that before the constitution was shaken one 
had time to be convinced that it is above all the great 
antiquity of laws which makes them holy and venerable; 
that the people soon scorns those laws which it sees 
change daily; and that in growing accustomed to neglect 
old usages on the pretext of making improvements, great 
evils are often introduced to correct lesser ones. 

Above all I would have fled, as necessarily ill-gov¬ 
erned, a Republic where the people, believing it could 
do without its magistrates or only allow them a pre¬ 
carious authority, would imprudently have retained the 
administration of civil affairs and the execution of its 
own laws. Such must have been the rude constitution 
of the first governments emerging immediately out of 
the state of nature, and such was also one of the vices 
that ruined the Republic of Athens. 

Rather I would have chosen that Republic where the 
individuals, being content to give sanction to the laws 
and to decide in a body and upon the report of their 
chiefs the most important public affairs, would establish 
respected tribunals, distinguish with care their various 
departments, elect from year to year the most capable 
and most upright of their fellow citizens to administer 
justice and govern the State; and where, the virtue of 


the magistrates thus being evidence of the wisdom of 
the people, they would mutually honor each other. So 
that if ever some fatal misunderstandings happened to 
disturb public concord, even those times of blindness 
and errors were marked by proofs of moderation, re¬ 
ciprocal esteem, and a common respect for the laws: 
presages and guarantees of a sincere and perpetual 
reconciliation. 3 

Such are, magnificent, most honored, and sovereign 
lords, the advantages that I would have sought in the 
fatherland I would have chosen for myself. And if Provi¬ 
dence had in addition given it a charming site, a 
temperate climate, a fertile countryside, and the most 
delightful appearance beneath the heavens, to complete 
my happiness I would have desired only to enjoy all 
these things in the bosom of that happy fatherland, 
living peacefully in sweet society with my fellow citi¬ 
zens, practicing toward them, and following their ex¬ 
ample, humanity, friendship, and all the virtues; and 
leaving behind me the honorable memory of a good 
man and a decent and virtuous patriot. 

If, less happy or too late wise, I saw myself reduced 
to end an infirm and languishing career in other climes, 
uselessly regretting the repose and peace of which my 
imprudent youth deprived me, I would at least have 
nourished in my soul those same sentiments I could 
not use in my fatherland; and moved by a tender and 
disinterested affection for my distant fellow citizens, 
from the bottom of my heart I would have addressed 
to them approximately the following discourse: 

My dear fellow citizens, or rather my brothers, since 
the bonds of blood as well as the laws unite almost all 
of us, it gives me pleasure to be unable to think of you 

84 / second discourse 

without at the same time thinking of all the good things 
you enjoy, and of which perhaps none of you knows the 
value better than I who have lost them. Hie more I 
reflect upon your political and civil situation, the less 
I can imagine that the nature of human things could 
admit of a better one. In all other governments, when 
the question is to assure the greatest good of the State, 
everything is always limited to imaginary projects, and 
at most to simple possibilities. As for you, your happi¬ 
ness is all established, it is only necessary to enjoy it; 
and to become perfectly happy you have no other need 
than to know how to be satisfied being so. Your sover¬ 
eignty, acquired or recovered at sword's point, and pre¬ 
served through two centuries by dint of valor and 
wisdom, is at last fully and universally recognized. Hon¬ 
orable treaties determine your boundaries, secure your 
rights, and strengthen your repose. Your constitution is 
excellent, dictated by the most sublime reason and 
guaranteed by friendly and respectable powers; your 
State is tranquil; you have neither wars nor conquerors 
to fear; you have no other masters except the wise laws 
you have made, administered by upright magistrates of 
your own choice. You are neither rich enough to ener¬ 
vate yourself by softness and lose in vain delights the 
taste for true happiness and solid virtues, nor poor 
enough to need more foreign help than your industry 
procures for you. And this precious freedom, which in 
large nations is maintained only by exorbitant taxes, 
costs you almost nothing to presene. 

For the happiness of its citizens and the example of 
peoples, may a Republic so wisely and so happily con¬ 
stituted endure forever! This is the sole wish left for 
you to make, and the only precaution left for you to 
take. Henceforth it is for you alone, not to create your 


happiness, since your ancestors have saved you the 
trouble, but to make it lasting by the wisdom of using 
it well. It is upon your perpetual unity, your obedience 
to the laws, your respect for their ministers that your 
preservation depends. If there remains among you the 
least germ of bitterness or distrust, hasten to destroy it 
as a deadly leaven which sooner or later would result 
in your misfortunes and the ruin of the State. I implore 
all of you to look deep into your hearts and consult the 
secret voice of your conscience. Does anyone among you 
know a more upright, more enlightened, more respect¬ 
able body than that of your magistracy? Do not all its 
members give you the example of moderation, of sim¬ 
plicity of morals, of respect for the laws, and of the most 
sincere reconciliation? 4 Then give such wise chiefs, 
without reserve, that salutary confidence which reason 
owes to virtue; bear in mind that they are of your choice, 
that they justify it, and that the honors due to those 
whom you have established in dignity necessarily re¬ 
flect upon yourselves. None of you is so unenlightened 
as to be ignorant that where the vigor of laws and the 
authority of their defenders cease, there can be neither 
security nor freedom for anyone. Therefore what is at 
issue among you except to do wholeheartedly and with 
just confidence what you should always be obliged to 
do by a true self-interest, by duty, and for the sake of 
reason. May a guilty and fatal indifference to the main¬ 
tenance of the constitution never make you neglect in 
need the wise advice of the most enlightened and 
zealous among you; but may equity, moderation, and the 
most respectful firmness continue to regulate all your 
actions and display in you, before the whole universe, 
the example of a proud and modest people as jealous 
of its glory as of its freedom. Beware above all, and this 

86/ second discourse 

will be my last counsel, of ever listening to sinister 
interpretations and venomous discourses, the secret 
motives of which are often more dangerous than the 
acts that are their object. An entire household awakes 
and takes warning at the first cries of a good and faith¬ 
ful guardian that never barks except at the approach of 
robbers; but people hate the importunity of those noisy 
animals that continually trouble public repose and 
whose continual and misplaced warnings are not heeded 
even at the moment when they are necessary. 

And you, magnificent and most honored lords, 
you worthy and respectable magistrates of a free people, 5 
permit me to offer you in particular my homages and 
my respects. If there is a rank in the world suited to do 
honor to those who hold it, it is doubtless that which 
is given by talents and virtue, that of which you have 
made yourselves worthy, and to which your fellow 
citizens have raised you. Their own merit adds to yours 
still another luster; and I find you, chosen by men 
capable of governing others in order that they them¬ 
selves be governed, as much above other magistrates 
as a free people, and especially that one which you have 
the honor to lead, is, by its enlightenment and reason, 
above the populace of other States. 

May I be allowed to cite an example of which better 
records ought to remain, and which will always be 
present in my heart. I never recall without the sweetest 
emotion the memory of the virtuous citizen to whom I 
owe my being, and who often spoke to me in my child¬ 
hood of the respect that was due you. I see him still, 
living from the work of his hands, and nourishing his 
soul on the most sublime truths. I see Tacitus, Plutarch, 
and Grotius mingled with the instruments of his trade 


before him. I see at his side a beloved son, receiving 
with too little profit the tender instructions of the best 
of fathers. 6 But if the aberrations of foolish youth made 
me forget such wise lessons for a time, 7 I have the 
happiness to feel at last that no matter what inclination 
one may have toward vice, it is difficult for an education 
in which the heart is involved to remain forever lost. 

Such are, magnificent and most honored lords, 
the citizens and even the simple inhabitants bom in 
the State you govern; such are those educated and 
sensible men of whom, under the name of workers and 
common-people, those in other nations have such base 
and false ideas. My father, I joyfully admit it, was not 
distinguished among his fellow citizens: he was only 
what they all are; and such as he was, there is no 
country where his company would not have been sought 
after, cultivated, and even profitably, by the most re¬ 
spectable men. It does not behoove me and, thank 
heaven, it is not necessary to speak to you of the con¬ 
sideration which can be expected from you by men of 
that stamp: your equals by education as well as by the 
rights of nature and of birth; your inferiors by their will 
and by the preference they owe your merit, which 
they have accorded it, and for which you owe them 
in turn a kind of gratitude. I learn with keen 
satisfaction of how much you temper toward them, by 
gentleness and condescension, the gravity suited to 
ministers of the laws; how much you return to them in 
esteem and attentions what they owe you in obedience 
and respects: conduct full of justice and wisdom, suited 
to put farther and farther away the memory of the un¬ 
happy events which must be forgotten in order that they 
never be seen again; 8 conduct all the more judicious as 

88 / second discourse 

this equitable and generous people makes a pleasure of 
its duty, as it naturally loves to honor you, and as the 
most ardent in upholding their rights are the most in¬ 
clined to respect yours. 

It ought not to be surprising that the chiefs of a civil 
society love its glory' and happiness; but it is too much 
so for the repose of men that those who consider them¬ 
selves as the magistrates, or rather as the masters, of a 
more holy and more sublime fatherland indicate some 
love for the terrestrial fatherland which nourishes 
them. 9 How sweet it is for me to be able to make such 
a rare exception in our favor, and to place in the rank 
of our best citizens those zealous trustees of the sacred 
dogmas authorized by the laws, those venerable pastors 
of souls, whose lively and sweet eloquence carries the 
maxims of the Gospel the better into hearts as the 
pastors always begin by practicing them themselves. 
Everyone knows with what success the great art of 
preaching is cultivated in Geneva. But as people are 
too accustomed to seeing things spoken of in one way 
and done in another, few of them know to what point 
the spirit of Christianity, saintliness of morals, severity 
to oneself and gentleness to others reign in the body 
of our ministers. Perhaps it behooves the city of Ge¬ 
neva alone to provide the edifying example of such 
a perfect union between a society of theologians and of 
men of letters; it is in great part upon their wisdom and 
recognized moderation, and upon their zeal for the 
prosperity of the State, that I ground hope for its eter¬ 
nal tranquillity; and I note, with a pleasure mixed with 
astonishment and respect, how much they abhor the 
atrocious maxims of those sacred and barbarous men of 
whom history provides more than one example, and 
who, in order to uphold the pretended rights of God— 


that is to say their own interests—were all the less spar¬ 
ing of human blood because they flattered themselves 
that their own would always be respected. 

Could I forget that precious half of the Republic 
which creates the happiness of the other and whose 
gentleness and wisdom maintain peace and good 
morals? Amiable and virtuous countrywomen, 10 the fate 
of your sex will always be to govern ours. It is fortunate 
when your chaste power, exercised solely in conjugal 
union, makes itself felt only for the glory of the State 
and the public happiness! Thus did women command 
at Sparta and thus do you deserve to command at 
Geneva. What barbarous man could resist the voice of 
honor and reason in the mouth of a tender wife? And 
who would not despise vain luxury seeing your simple 
and modest attire which, from the luster it derives from 
you, seems the most favorable to beauty? It is for you 
to maintain always, by your amiable and innocent do¬ 
minion and by your insinuating wit, love of laws in the 
State and concord among the citizens; to reunite, by 
happy marriages, divided families; and above all to cor¬ 
rect, by the persuasive sweetness of your lessons and by 
the modest graces of your conversation, the extrava¬ 
gances our young people adopt in other countries, 
whence, instead of the many useful things from which 
they could profit, they bring back, with a childish tone 
and ridiculous airs adopted among debauched women, 
only admiration for I know not what pretended gran¬ 
deurs, frivolous compensations for servitude, which will 
never be worth as much as august freedom. Therefore 
always be what you are, the chaste guardians of morals 
and the gentle bonds of peace; and continue to exploit 
on every occasion the rights of the heart and of nature 
for the benefit of duty and virtue. 

90/ second discourse 

I flatter myself that events will not prove me mistaken 
in founding upon such guarantees hope for the general 
happiness of the citizens and for the'glory of the Re¬ 
public. I admit that with all these advantages it will 
not shine with that brillance which dazzles most eyes, 
the childish and fatal taste for which is the most mortal 
enemy of happiness and freedom. Let dissolute youth 
go to seek easy pleasures and long lasting repentance 
elsewhere; let the supposed men of taste admire in other 
places the grandeur of palaces, the beauty of carriages, 
the superb furnishings, the pomp of spectacles, and all 
the refinements of softness and luxury. In Geneva one 
will find only men; but such a spectacle has, nonetheless, 
its value, and those who seek it will be worth more than 
the admirers of the rest. 

May you all, magnificent, most honored, and sover¬ 
eign lords, deign to receive with the same goodness 
the respectful testimonies of the interest I take in your 
common prosperity. If I were unfortunate enough to be 
guilty of some indiscreet excess in this lively effusion of 
my heart, I beg you to pardon it as the tender affection 
of a true patriot, and as the ardent and legitimate zeal 
of a man who conceives no greater happiness for him¬ 
self than that of seeing all of you happy. 

I remain, with the most profound respect, 


Your most humble and most obedient sen-ant and 

fellow citizen, 

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 

June 12, 1754 


the most useful and least advanced of all human 
knowledge seems to me to be that of man ( b ); and I 
dare say that the inscription of the temple of Delphi 
alone contained a precept more important and more 
difficult than all the thick volumes of the moralists. 11 
Thus I consider the subject of this Discourse one of 
the most interesting questions that philosophy might 
propose, and unhappily for us, one of the thorniest that 
philosophers might resolve: for how can the source of 
inequality among men be known unless one begins by 
knowing men themselves? And how will man manage 
to see himself as nature formed him, through all the 
changes that the sequence of time and things must have 
produced in his original constitution, and to separate 
what he gets from his own stock from what circum¬ 
stances and his progress have added to or changed in 
his primitive state? Like the statue of Glaucus, which 
time, sea, and storms had so disfigured that it looked 
less like a god than a wild beast, 12 the human soul, 
altered in the bosom of society by a thousand continu¬ 
ally renewed causes, by the acquisition of a mass of 
knowledge and errors, by changes that occurred in the 
constitution of bodies, and by the continual impact of 
the passions, has, so to speak, changed its appearance to 
the point of being nearly unrecognizable; and, instead 
of a being acting always by fixed and invariable prin¬ 
ciples, instead of that heavenly and majestic simplicity 
with which its author had endowed it, one no longer 

9 1 

92 / second discourse 

finds anything except the ugly contrast of passion which 
presumes to reason and understanding in delirium. 

What is even crueler is that, as all the progress of the 
human species continually moves it farther away from 
its primitive state, the more new knowledge we accumu¬ 
late, the more we deprive ourselves of the means of 
acquiring the most important knowledge of all; so that 
it is, in a sense, by dint of studying man that we have 
made ourselves incapable of knowing him. 

It is easy to see that one must seek in these successive 
changes of the human constitution the first origin of the 
differences distinguishing men—who, by common 
avowal, are naturally as equal among themselves as were 
the animals of each species before various physical 
causes had introduced into certain species the varieties 
we notice. In effect, it is not conceivable that these first 
changes, by whatever means they occurred, altered all 
at once and in the same way all the individuals of the 
species; but some, being perfected or deteriorated and 
having acquired diverse qualities, good or bad, which 
were not inherent in their nature, the others remained 
longer in their original state. And such was the first 
source of inequality among men, which is more easily 
demonstrated thus in general than assigned its true 
causes with precision. 

Let my readers not imagine, therefore, that I dare 
flatter myself with having seen what appears to me so 
difficult to see. I began some lines of reasoning, I ven¬ 
tured some conjectures, less in the hope of resolving the 
question than with the intention of clarifying it and 
reducing it to its true state. Others will easily be able 
to go farther on the same road, though it will not be 
easy for anyone to reach the end of it; for it is no light 
undertaking to separate what is original from what is 

preface /93 

artificial in the present nature of man, and to know 
correctly a state which no longer exists, which perhaps 
never existed, which probably never will exist, and 
about which it is nevertheless necessary to have precise 
notions in order to judge our present state correctly. 
He who would try to determine exactly which precau¬ 
tions to take in order to make solid observations on 
this subject would need even more philosophy than is 
generally thought; and a good solution of the following 
problem would not seem to me unworthy of the Aris- 
totles and Plinys of our century: What experiments 
would be necessary to achieve knowledge of natural 
man? And what are the means for making these experi¬ 
ments in the midst of society? Far from undertaking to 
resolve this problem, I think I have pondered the sub¬ 
ject enough to dare answer in advance that the greatest 
philosophers will not be too good to direct these experi¬ 
ments, nor the most powerful sovereigns to make them: 
cooperation which it is hardly reasonable to expect, 
especially with the perseverance or rather the succes¬ 
sion of intellect and good will necessary, on one side 
and the other, to achieve success. 

These researches, so difficult to conduct and so little 
thought of until now, are nevertheless the only means 
we have left to remove a multitude of difficulties that 
hide from us knowledge of the real foundations of hu- 

I man society. It is this ignorance of the nature of man 
that throws so much uncertainty and obscurity on the 
true definition of natural right: for the idea of right, says 
M. Burlamaqui, and even more that of natural right 
are manifestly ideas relative to the nature of man. It is 
therefore from this very nature of man, he continues, 
from his constitution and his state, that the principles 
of that science must be deduced. 13 

94 / second discourse 

It is not without surprise and scandal that one notes 
the little agreement which prevails on this important 
matter among the various authors who have discussed 
it. Among the most serious writers one can hardly find 
two who are of the same opinion on this point. Without 
speaking of the ancient philosophers, who seem to have 
tried their best to contradict each other on the most 
fundamental principles, the Roman jurists subject man 
and all the other animals indifferently to the same nat¬ 
ural law, because they consider under this name the law 
that nature imposes upon itself rather than that which 
it prescribes; or rather because of the particular sense in 
which those jurists understand the word law, which on 
this occasion they seem to have taken only for the ex¬ 
pression of the general relations established by nature 
among all animate beings for their common preserva¬ 
tion. 14 The modems, recognizing under the name law 
only a rule prescribed to a moral being, that is to say, 
intelligent, free, and considered in his relations with 
other beings, consequently limit the competence of nat¬ 
ural law to the sole animal endowed with reason, namely 
man; but each defining this law in his own fashion, they 
all establish it upon such metaphysical principles that 
even among us there are very few people capable of 
comprehending these principles, far from being able to 
find them by themselves. 15 So that all the definitions of 
these wise men, otherwise in perpetual contradiction to 
one another, agree only in this, that it is impossible to 
understand the law of nature and consequently to obey 
it without being a great reasoner and a profound meta¬ 
physician: which means precisely that men must have 
used, for the establishment of society, enlightenment 
which only develops with great difficulty and in very 
few people in the midst of society itself. 

preface /95 

Knowing nature so little, and agreeing so poorly upon 
the meaning of the word law, it would be very difficult 
to agree on a good definition of natural law. Thus all 
those that are found in books, besides not being uni¬ 
form, have in addition the fault of being drawn from 
several kinds of knowledge which men do not naturally 
have, and from advantages which men can conceive of 
only after having left the state of nature. Writers begin 
by seeking the rules on which, for the common utility, 
it would be appropriate that men agree among them¬ 
selves; and then they give the name natural law to the 
collection of these rules, without other proof than the 
good which they judge would result from their universal 
application. This is surely a very facile way to compose 
definitions and to explain the nature of things by al¬ 
most arbitrary conveniences. 

But so long as we do not know natural man, we 
would try in vain to determine the law he has received 
or that which best suits his constitution. All that we 
can see very clearly concerning this law is that, for it to 
be law, not only must the will of him who is bound by 
it be able to submit to it with knowledge; but also, for 
it to be natural, it must speak directly by nature’s voice. 

Leaving aside therefore all scientific books which 
teach us only to see men as they have made themselves, 
and meditating on the first and simplest operations of 
the human soul, I believe I perceive in it two principles 
anterior to reason, of which one interests us ardently in 
our well-being and our self-preservation, and the 
other inspires in us a natural repugnance to see any 
sensitive being perish or suffer, principally our fellow- 
men. It is from the conjunction and combination that 
our mind is able to make of these two principles, with¬ 
out the necessity of introducing that of sociability, 16 

96 /second discourse 

that all the rules of natural right appear to me to flow: 
rules which reason is later forced to re-establish upon 
other foundations when, by its successive developments, 
it has succeeded in stifling nature. 

In this way one is not forced to make man a philoso¬ 
pher before making him a man; his duties toward others 
are not dictated to him solely by the belated lessons 
of wisdom; and as long as he does not resist the inner 
impulse of commiseration, he will never harm another 
man or even another sensitive being, except in the legiti¬ 
mate case where, his preservation being concerned, he 
is obliged to give himself preference. By this means one 
also ends the ancient disputes about the participation 
of animals in natural law; for it is clear that, being 
devoid of intellect and freedom, they cannot recog¬ 
nize this law. But as they share something of our nature 
through the sensitivity with which they are endowed, 
one will judge that they too ought to participate in 
natural right, and that man is subject to some sort of 
duties toward them. It seems, in effect, that if I am 
obliged to do no harm to my fellow man, it is less be¬ 
cause he is a reasonable being than because he is a 
sensitive being: a quality that, being common to beast 
and man, ought at least to give the one the right 
not to be uselessly mistreated by the other. 

This same study of original man, of his true needs, 
and of the principles underlying his duties, is also the 
only good means one could use to remove those crowds 
of difficulties which present themselves concerning the 
origin of moral inequality, the true foundations of the 
body politic, the reciprocal rights of its members, and 
a thousand similar questions as important as they are 
ill explained. 

preface /97 

When human society is considered with calm and dis¬ 
interested attention, it seems to show at first only the 
violence of powerful men and the oppression of the 
weak: the mind revolts against the harshness of the for¬ 
mer; one is prompted to deplore the blindness of the 
latter. And as nothing is less stable among men than 
those external relationships which chance produces 
more often than wisdom, and which are called weakness 
or power, wealth or poverty, human establishments ap¬ 
pear at first glance to be founded on piles of quicksand. 
It is only by examining them closely, it is only after re¬ 
moving the dust and sand that surround the edifice, 
that one perceives the unshakeable base upon which it 
is built, and that one learns to respect its foundations. 
Now without serious study of man, of his natural facul¬ 
ties and their successive developments, one will never 
succeed in making such distinctions and in separating, 
in the present constitution of things, what divine will 
has done from what human art has pretended to do. 
r rhe political and moral researches occasioned by the 
important question I examine are therefore useful in 
all ways; and the hypothetical history of governments is 
an instructive lesson for man in all respects. By consid¬ 
ering what we would have become abandoned to our¬ 
selves, we ought to learn to bless him whose beneficent 
hand, correcting our institutions and giving them an un¬ 
shakeable base, has prevented the disorders which must 
otherwise have resulted from them, and has created 
our happiness from the means that seemed likely to 
heighten our miser) 7 . 

Quern te Deus esse 

Jussit, et humana qua parte locatus es in re, 

Disce. 17 

Notice on the Notes 

i have added some notes to this work, following my lazy 
custom of working in fits and starts. These notes some¬ 
times stray so far from the subject that they are not 
good to read with the text. I have therefore relegated 
them to the end of the Discourse, in which I have 
tried my best to follow the straightest path. Those who 
have the courage to begin again will be able to amuse 
themselves the second time in beating the bushes, and 
try to go through the notes. There will be little harm if 
others do not read them at all. 18 



Proposed by the Academy of Dijon 

What is the origin of inequality 
among men; and is it authorized 
by natural law? 

Discourse on the Origin and 
Foundations of Inequality Among 
Men 19 

it is of man that I am to speak; and the question I ex¬ 
amine informs me that I am going to speak to men; for 
such questions are not proposed by those who are afraid 
of honoring the truth. Therefore I shall defend with 
confidence the cause of humanity before the wise men 
who invite me to do so, and I shall not be discontent 
with myself if I prove myself worthy of my subject and 
my judges. 

I conceive of two sorts of inequality in the human 
species: one, which I call natural or physical, because it 
is established by nature and consists in the difference of 
ages, health, bodily strengths, and qualities of mind or 
soul; 20 the other, which may be called moral or political 
inequality, because it depends upon a sort of convention 
and is established, or at least authorized, by the consent 
of men. The latter consists in the different privileges 
that some men enjoy to the prejudice of others, such 
as to be richer, more honored, more powerful than they, 
or even to make themselves obeyed by them. 

One cannot ask what the source of natural inequal¬ 
ity is, because the answer would be found enunciated 
in the simple definition of the word. Still less can one 
inquire if there would not be some essential link be¬ 
tween the two inequalities; for that would be asking, in 
other terms, whether those who command are neces¬ 
sarily worth more than those who obey, and whether 


102/second discourse 

strength of body or mind, wisdom or virtue, are always 
found in the same individuals in proportion to power 
or wealth: a question perhaps good for slaves to discuss 
in the hearing of their masters, but not suitable for 
reasonable and free men who seek the truth. 

Precisely what, then, is at issue in this Discourse? To 
indicate in the progress of things the moment when, 
right taking the plare of violence, nature was subjected 
to law; to explain by what sequence of marvels the 
strong could resolve to sene the weak, and the people 
to buy imaginary repose at the price of real felicity. 

The philosophers who have examined the founda¬ 
tions of society have all felt the necessity of going back 
to the state of nature, but none of them has reached it. 
Some have not hesitated to attribute to man in that 
state the notion of the just and unjust, without troubling 
themselves to show that he had to have that notion or 
even that it was useful to him. Others have spoken of 
the natural right that everyone has to presene what 
belongs to him, without explaining what they meant by 
belong. Still others, giving the stronger authority over 
the weaker from the first, have forthwith made govern¬ 
ment arise, without thinking of the time that must 
have elapsed before the meaning of the words “au¬ 
thority” and “government” could exist among men. 
All of them, finally, speaking continually of need, 
avarice, oppression, desires, and pride, have carried over 
to the state of nature ideas they had acquired in society: 
they spoke about savage man and they described civil 
man. It did not even enter the minds of most of our 
philosophers to doubt that the state of nature had 
existed, even though it is evident from reading the Holy 
Scriptures that the first man, having received enlighten- 


ment and precepts directly from God, was not himself 
in that state; and that giving the writings of Moses the 
credence that any Christian philosopher owes them, it 
must be denied that even before the flood men were ever 
in the pure state of nature, unless they fell back into 
it because of some extraordinary event: a paradox that 
is very embarrassing to defend and altogether impossible 
to prove. 

Let us therefore begin by setting all the facts aside, for 
they do not affect the question. The researches which 
can be undertaken concerning this subject must not be 
taken for historical truths, but only for hypothetical 
and conditional reasonings better suited to clarify 
the nature of things than to show their true origin, like 
those our physicists make every day concerning the 
formation of the world. Religion commands us to be¬ 
lieve that since God Himself took men out of the state 
of nature immediately after the creation, they are un¬ 
equal because He wanted them to be so; but it does not 
forbid us to form conjectures, drawn solely from the 
nature of man and the beings surrounding him, about 
what the human race might have become if it had 
remained abandoned to itself. That is what I am asked, 
and what I propose to examine in this Discourse. As 
my subject concerns man in general, I shall try to use a 
language that suits all nations, or rather, forgetting times 
and places in order to think only of the men to whom 
I speak, I shall imagine myself in the Lyceum of Athens, 
repeating the lessons of my masters, with Plato and 
Xenocrates for judges, and the human race for an 

O man, whatever country you may come from, what¬ 
ever your opinions may be, listen: here is your history 

104/ SECOND discourse 

as I believed it to read, not in the books of vour fellow- 
men, which are liars, but in nature, which never lies. 
Everything that comes from nature will be true; there 
will be nothing false except what I have involuntarily 
put in of my own. 'Hie times of which I am going to 
speak are very far off: how you have changed from 
what you were! It is, so to speak, the life of your species 
that I am going to describe to you according to the 
qualities you received, which your education and habits 
have been able to corrupt but have not been able to 
destroy. There is, I feel, an age at which the individual 
man would want to stop: you will seek the age at which 
you would desire your species had stopped. Discontented 
with your present state for reasons that foretell even 
greater discontents for your unhappy posterity, perhaps 
you would want to be able to go backward in time. 
This sentiment must be the eulogy of your first 
ancestors, the criticism of your contemporaries, and the 
dread of those who will have the unhappiness to live 
after you. 


Important as it may be, in order to judge the natural 
state of man correctly, to consider him from his origin 
and examine him, so to speak, in the first embryo of the 
species, I shall not follow his organic structure through 
its successive developments. I shall not stop to in¬ 
vestigate in the animal system what he could have been 
at the beginning in order to become at length what he 
is. I shall not examine whether, as Aristotle thinks, man’s 
elongated nails were not at first hooked claws ; 21 whether 
he was not hairv like a bear; and whether, if he walked 
on all fours (c), his gaze, directed toward the earth and 


confined to a horizon of several paces, did not indicate 
both the character and the limits of his ideas. On this 
subject I could form only vague and almost imaginary 
conjectures. Comparative anatomy has as yet made too 
little progress and the observations of naturalists are as 
yet too uncertain for one to be able to establish the 
basis of solid reasoning upon such foundations. Thus, 
without having recourse to the supernatural knowledge 
we have on this point, and without regard to the changes 
that must have come about in the internal as well as ex¬ 
ternal conformation of man as he applied his limbs to 
new uses and as he nourished himself on new foods, I 
shall suppose him to have been formed from all time as 
I see him today: walking on two feet, using his hands 
as we do ours, directing his gaze on all of nature, and 
measuring the vast expanse of heaven with his eyes. 

Stripping this being, so constituted, of all the super¬ 
natural gifts he could have received and of all the 
artificial faculties he could only have acquired by long 
progress—considering him, in a word, as he must have 
come from the hands of nature—I see an animal less 
strong than some, less agile than others, but all things 
considered, the most advantageously organized of all. I 
see him satisfying his hunger under an oak, quenching 
his thirst at the first stream, finding his bed at the foot 
of the same tree that furnished his meal; and therewith 
his needs are satisfied. 

The earth, abandoned to its natural fertility (d) and 
covered by immense forests never mutilated by the axe, 
offers at every step storehouses and shelters to animals 
of all species. Men, dispersed among the animals, ob¬ 
serve and imitate their industry, and thereby develop in 
themselves the instinct of the beasts; with the advantage 


that whereas each species has only its own proper in¬ 
stinct, man—perhaps having none that belongs to him— 
appropriates them all to himself, feeds himself equally 
well with most of the diverse foods ( e ) which the other 
animals share, and consequently finds his subsistence 
more easily than any of them can. 

Accustomed from infancy to inclemencies of the 
weather and the rigor of the seasons, trained in fatigue, 
and forced, naked and without arms, to defend their 
lives and their prey against other wild beasts, or to es¬ 
cape by outrunning them, men develop a robust and 
almost unalterable temperament. Children, bringing 
into the world the excellent constitution of their fathers 
and fortifying it with the same training that produced 
it, thus acquire all the vigor of which the human species 
is capable. Nature treats them precisely as the law of 
Sparta treated the children of citizens: it renders strong 
and robust those who are well constituted and makes 
all the others perish, thereby differing from our socie¬ 
ties, in which the State, by making children burden¬ 
some to their fathers, kills them indiscriminately before 
their birth. 

The savage man’s body being the only implement he 
knows, he employs it for various uses of which, through 
lack of training, our bodies are incapable; our industry 
deprives us of the strength and agility that necessity 
obliges him to acquire. If he had an axe, would his wrist 
break such strong branches? If he had a sling, would 
he throw a stone so hard? If he had a ladder, would he 
climb a tree so nimbly? If he had a horse, would he 
run so fast? Give civilized man time to assemble all 
his machines around him and there can be no doubt 
that he will easily overcome savage man. But if you 


want to see an even more unequal fight, put them, naked 
and disarmed, face to face, and you will soon recognize 
the advantage of constantly having all of one’s strength 
at one’s disposal, of always being ready for any event, 
and of always earning oneself, so to speak, entirely with 
one (/). 

Hobbes claims that man is naturally intrepid and 
seeks only to attack and fight . 22 An illustrious philos¬ 
opher thinks, on the contrary, and Cumberland and 
Pufendorf also affirm, that nothing is so timid as man 
in the state of nature, and that he is always trembling 
and ready to flee at the slightest noise he hears, at the 
slightest movement he perceives 23 That may be so with 
respect to objects he does not know; and I do not doubt 
that he is frightened by all the new sights that present 
themselves to him every time he can neither discern 
the physical good and evil to be expected nor compare 
his forces with the dangers he must run: rare circum¬ 
stances in the state of nature, where all things move in 
such a uniform manner, and where the face of the earth 
is not subject to those brusque and continual changes 
caused by the passions and inconstancy of united peo¬ 
ples. But savage man, living dispersed among the animals 
and early finding himself in a position to measure him¬ 
self against them, soon makes the comparison; and 
sensing that he surpasses them in skill more than they 
surpass him in strength, he learns not to fear them any 
more. Pit a bear or a wolf against a savage who is robust, 
agile, courageous, as they all are, armed with stones and 
a good stick, and you will see that the danger will be re¬ 
ciprocal at the very least, and that after several similar 
experiences wild beasts, which do not like to attack each 
other, will hardly attack man willingly, having found 


him to be just as wild as they. With regard to animals 
that actually have more strength than man has skill, 
he is in the position of the other weaker species, which 
nevertheless subsist. But man has the advantage that, 
no less adept at running than they and finding almost 
certain refuge in trees, he always has the option of ac¬ 
cepting or leaving the encounter and the choice of flight 
or combat. Let us add that it does not appear that any 
animal naturally makes war upon man except in case of 
self-defense or extreme hunger, or gives evidence of those 
violent antipathies toward him that seem to announce 
that one species is destined by nature to serve as food 
for the other. 

These are, without doubt, the reasons why Negroes 
and savages trouble themselves so little about the w’ild 
beasts they may encounter in the woods. In this re¬ 
spect the Caribs of Venezuela, among others, live in 
the most profound security and without the slightest 
inconvenience. Although they go nearly naked, says 
Francois Correal, they nevertheless expose themselves 
boldly in the woods armed only with bow and arrow, 
but no one has ever heard that any of them were de¬ 
voured by beasts. 

Other more formidable enemies, against which man 
does not have the same means of defense, are natural 
infirmities: infancy, old age, and illnesses of all kinds, 
sad signs of our weakness, of which the first two are 
common to all animals and the last belongs principally 
to man living in society. I even observe on the subject of 
infancy that the mother, since she carries her child with 
her everywhere, can nourish it with more facility than 
the females of several animals, which arc forced to come 
and go incessantly with great fatigue, in one direction 


to seek their food and in the other to suckle or nourish 
their young. It is true that if the woman should die, 
the child greatly risks dying with her; but this danger is 
common to a hundred other species, whose young are 
for a long time unable to go and seek their nourish¬ 
ment themselves. And if infancy is longer among us, so 
also is life; everything remains approximately equal in 
this respect (g), although there are, concerning the 
duration of the first age and the number of young (/i), 
other rules which are not within my subject. Among 
the aged, who act and perspire little, the need for food 
diminishes with the faculty of providing for it; and 
since savage life keeps gout and rheumatism away from 
them and since old age is, of all ills, the one that human 
assistance can least relieve, they finally die without it 
being perceived that they cease to be, and almost 
without perceiving it themselves. 

With regard to illnesses, I shall not repeat the vain 
and false declamations against medicine made by most 
people in good health; rather, I shall ask whether there 
is any solid observation from which one might con¬ 
clude that in countries where this art is most neglected, 
the average life of man is shorter than in those where 
it is cultivated with the greatest care. And how could 
that be, if we give ourselves more ills than medicine 
can furnish remedies? The extreme inequality in our 
way of life: excess of idleness in some, excess of labor 
in others; the ease of stimulating and satisfying our ap¬ 
petites and our sensuality; the overly refined foods of 
the rich, which nourish them with binding juices and 
overwhelm them with indigestion; the bad food of the 
poor, which they do not even have most of the time, 
so that their want inclines them to overburden their 


stomachs greedily when the occasion permits; late 
nights, excesses of all kinds, immoderate ecstasies of all 
the passions, fatigues and exhaustion of mind; number¬ 
less sorrow's and afflictions which are felt in all condi¬ 
tions and by which souls are perpetually tormented: 
these are the fatal proofs that most of our ills are our 
own work, and that we would have avoided almost all 
of them by preserving the simple, uniform, and solitary 
way of life prescribed to us by nature. If nature destined 
us to be healthy, I almost dare affirm that the state of 
reflection is a state contrary to nature and that the 
man who meditates is a depraved animal. When one 
thinks of the good constitution of savages, at least of 
those whom w r e have not ruined with our strong liquors; 
when one learns that they know almost no illnesses 
except wounds and old age, one is strongly inclined to 
believe that the history of human illnesses could easily 
be written by following that of civil societies. This at 
least is the opinion of Plato, who judges, from certain 
remedies used or approved by Podalirius and Machaon 
at the siege of Troy, that various illnesses that should 
have been caused by those remedies were not yet known 
at that time among men ; 24 and Paracelsus reports that 
the diet, so necessary today, w ? as invented only by Hip¬ 

With so few sources of illness, man in the state of 
nature hardly has need of remedies, still less of doctors. 
In this respect the human species is not in any worse 
condition than all the others; and it is easy to learn 
from hunters whether in their chases they find many 
sick animals. They find many that have received ex¬ 
tensive but very well healed wounds, that have had 
bones and even limbs broken and set again with no 


other surgeon than time, no other regimen than their 
ordinary life, and that are no less perfectly cured for 
not having been tormented with incisions, poisoned 
with drugs, or weakened with fasting. Finally, however 
useful well-administered medicine may be among us, 
it is still certain that if a sick savage abandoned to him¬ 
self has nothing to hope for except from nature, in re¬ 
turn he has nothing to fear except from his illness, 
which often renders his situation preferable to ours. 

Let us therefore take care not to confuse savage man 
with the men we have before our eyes. Nature treats 
all the animals abandoned to its care with a partiality 
that seems to show how jealous it is of this right. The 
horse, the cat, the bull, even the ass, are mostly taller, 
and all have a more robust constitution, more vigor, 
more strength and courage in the forest than in our 
houses. They lose half of these advantages in becoming 
domesticated, and it might be said that all our cares 
to treat and feed these animals well end only in their 
degeneration . 25 It is the same even for man. In be¬ 
coming sociable and a slave he becomes weak, fearful, 
servile; and his soft and effeminate way of life com¬ 
pletes the enervation of both his strength and his 
courage. Let us add that between savage and domesti¬ 
cated conditions the difference from man to man must 
be still greater than that from beast to beast; for ani¬ 
mal and man having been treated equally by nature, 
all the commodities of which man gives himself more 
than the animals he tames are so many particular causes 
that make him degenerate more noticeably. 

Nakedness, lack of habitation, and deprivation of all 
those useless things we believe so necessary are not, 
then, such a great misfortune for these first men; nor, 


above all, are they such a great obstacle to their preser¬ 
vation. If they do not have hairy'- skin, they have no 
need of it in warm countries, and in cold countries they 
soon know how to appropriate the skins of beasts they 
have overcome. If they have only two feet to run with, 
they have two arms to provide for their defense and 
their needs. Perhaps their children walk late and with 
difficulty, but mothers cany' them with ease: an ad¬ 
vantage lacking in other species in which the mother, 
being pursued, finds herself forced to abandon her 
young or to regulate her speed by theirs.* Finally, un¬ 
less we suppose those singular and fortuitous combina¬ 
tions of circumstances of which I shall speak hereafter 
and which could very well never happen, it is clear in 
any case that the first man who made himself clothing 
or a dwelling, in doing so gave himself things that were 
hardly necessary, since he had done without them until 
then and since it is hard to see why he could not en¬ 
dure, as a grown man, a kind of life he had endured 
from his infancy. 

Alone, idle, and always near danger, savage man must 
like to sleep, and be a light sleeper like animals which, 
thinking little, sleep so to speak all the time they do 
not think. His self-preservation being almost his only 
care, his best-trained faculties must be those having as 
principal object attack and defense, either to subju¬ 
gate his prey or to save himself from being the prey of 

*There may be a few exceptions to this: for example, 
that animal of the Province of Nicaragua which resembles 
a fox, has feet like a man’s hands, and according to Corrdal 
has a pouch under the stomach where the mother puts her 
young when she is obliged to flee. This is doubtless the same 
animal that is called tlaquatzin in Mexico, to the female of 
which Laet ascribes a similar pouch for the same use. 


another animal. O11 the contrary, the organs that are 
perfected only by softness and sensuality must remain 
in a state of crudeness which excludes any kind of 
delicacy in him; and his senses being divided in this 
regard, he will have extremely crude touch and taste, 
and sight, hearing, and smell of the greatest subtlety. 
Such is the animal state in general; and according to 
reports of travelers, such also is that of most savage 
peoples. Thus one must not be surprised that the 
Hottentots of the Cape of Good Hope sight vessels 
on the high sea with their naked eyes as far away as do 
the Dutch with spyglasses; nor that American savages 
could smell Spaniards on the trail as the best dogs 
could have done; nor that all these barbarous na¬ 
tions endure their nakedness without discomfort, 
sharpen their taste by means of peppers, and drink 
European liquors like water. 

I have to this point considered only physical man; let 
us now try to look at him from the metaphysical and 
moral side. 

In every animal I see only an ingenious machine to 
which nature has given senses in order to revitalize it¬ 
self and guarantee itself, to a certain point, from all 
that tends to destroy or upset it. I perceive precisely 
the same things in the human machine, with the differ¬ 
ence that nature alone does everything in the operations 
of a beast, whereas man contributes to his operations 
by being a free agent. The former chooses or rejects by 
instinct and the latter by an act of freedom, so that a 
beast cannot deviate from the rule that is prescribed to 
it even when it would be advantageous for it to do so, 
and a man deviates from it often to his detriment. Thus 
a pigeon would die of hunger near a basin filled with 

114 /second discourse 

the best meats, and a cat upon heaps of fruits or grain, 
although each could very well nourish itself on the 
food it disdains if it made up its mind to try some. 
Thus dissolute men abandon themselves to excesses 
which cause them fever and death, because the mind 
depraves the senses and because the will still speaks 
when nature is silent. 

Ever}' animal has ideas, since it has senses; it even 
combines its ideas up to a certain point, and in this 
regard man differs from a beast only in degree. Some 
philosophers have even suggested that there is more 
difference between a given man and another than be¬ 
tween a given man and a given beast . 20 Therefore it is 
not so much understanding which constitutes the dis¬ 
tinction of man among the animals as it is his being a 
free agent. Nature commands ever}' animal, and the 
beast obeys. Man feels the same impetus, but he real¬ 
izes that he is free to acquiesce or resist; and it is above 
all in the consciousness of this freedom that the spiri¬ 
tuality of his soul is shown. For physics explains in 
some way the mechanism of the senses and the forma¬ 
tion of ideas; but in the power of willing, or rather of 
choosing, and in the sentiment of this power arc found 
only purely spiritual acts about which the laws of 
mechanics explain nothing. 

But if the difficulties surrounding all these questions 
should leave some room for dispute on this difference 
between man and animal, there is another very specific 
quality that distinguishes them and about which there 
can be no dispute: the faculty of self-perfection, a 
faculty which, with the aid of circumstances, succes¬ 
sively develops all the others, and resides among us as 
much in the species as in the individual. By contrast 
an animal is at the end of a few months what it will 


be all its life; and its species is at the end of a thousand 
years what it was the first year of that thousand. Why 
is man alone subject to becoming imbecile? Is it not 
that he thereby returns to his primitive state; and that 
—while the beast, which has acquired nothing and 
which has, moreover, nothing to lose, always retains its 
instinct—man, losing again by old age or other acci¬ 
dents all that his perfectibility had made him acquire, 
thus falls back lower than the beast itself? It would be 
sad for us to be forced to agree that this distinctive 
and almost unlimited faculty is the source of all man’s 
misfortunes; that it is this faculty which, by dint of 
time, draws him out of that original condition in which 
he would pass tranquil and innocent days; that it is this 
faculty which, bringing to flower over the centuries his 
enlightenment and his errors, his vices and his virtues, 
in the long run makes him the tyrant of himself and 
of nature ( i). It would be horrible to be obliged to 
praise as a beneficent being the one who first sug¬ 
gested to the inhabitant of the banks of the Orinoco 
the use of those pieces of wood which he binds on the 
temples of his children, and which assure them at 
least a part of their imbecility and original happiness. 

Savage man, by nature committed to instinct alone, 
or rather compensated for the instinct he perhaps lacks 
by faculties capable of substituting for it at first, and 
then of raising him far above nature, will therefore 
begin with purely animal functions (/'). To perceive 
and feel will be his first state, which he will have in 
common with all animals. To will and not will, to 
desire and fear will be the first and almost the only 
operations of his soul until new circumstances cause 
new developments in it. 

Whatever the moralists may say about it, human 

116 /SECOND discourse 

understanding owes much to the passions, which by 
common agreement also owe much to it. It is by their 
activity that our reason is perfected; we seek to know 
only because we desire to have pleasure; and it is impos¬ 
sible to conceive why one who had neither desires nor 
fears would go to the trouble of reasoning. The passions 
in turn derive their origin from our needs, and their 
progress from our knowledge. For one can desire or 
fear things only through the ideas one can have of 
them or by the simple impulsion of nature; and savage 
man, deprived of every' kind of enlightenment, feels 
only the passions of this last kind. His desires do not 
exceed his physical needs ( k ), the only goods he knows 
in the universe are nourishment, a female, and repose; 
the only evils he fears arc pain and hunger. I say pain 
and not death because an animal will never know what 
it is to die; and knowledge of death and its terrors is 
one of the first acquisitions that man has made in mov¬ 
ing away from the animal condition. 

It would be easy for me, were it necessary, to sup¬ 
port this sentiment by facts and to demonstrate that in 
all nations of the world progress of the mind has been 
precisely proportioned to the needs that peoples had 
received from nature or to those to which circum¬ 
stances had subjected them, and consequently to the 
passions which inclined them to provide for those 
needs. I would show the arts coming into existence in 
Egypt and spreading with the flooding of the Nile. I 
would follow their progress among the Greeks, where 
they were seen to spring up, grow, and rise to the 
heavens among the sands and rocks of Attica though 
they could not take root on the fertile banks of the 
Eurotas . 27 I would note that, in general, the peoples 


of the North are more industrious than those of the 
South because they can less afford not to be, as if 
nature thereby wanted to equalize things by giving 
to minds the fertility' it refuses the earth. 

But without having recourse to the uncertain testi¬ 
monies of history', who does not see that everything 
seems to remove savage man from the temptation and 
means of ceasing to be savage? His imagination sug- 
: gests nothing to him; his heart asks nothing of him. 
His modest needs are so easily found at hand, and he 
is so far from the degree of knowledge necessary for 
desiring to acquire greater knowledge, that he can have 
neither foresight nor curiosity. The spectacle of nature 
becomes indifferent to him by dint of becoming 
familiar. There is always the same order, there are al¬ 
ways the same revolutions; he does not have the mind 
to wonder at the greatest marvels; and one must not 
seek in him the philosophy that man needs in order 
to know how to observe once what he has seen every 
day. His soul, agitated by nothing, is given over to the 
sole sentiment of its present existence without any 
idea of the future, however near it may be, and his 
projects, as limited as his views, barely extend to the 
end of the day. Such is, even today, the degree of fore¬ 
sight of the Carib: in the morning he sells his bed of 
cotton and in the evening he comes weeping to buy 
it back, for want of having foreseen that he would need 
it for the coming night. 

The more one meditates on this subject, the more 
the distance from pure sensations to the simplest 
knowledge increases in our eyes; and it is impossible 
to conceive how a man, by his strength alone, without 
the aid of communication and without the stimulus of 

118 /second discourse 

necessity, could have bridged so great a gap. I low many 
centuries perhaps elapsed before men were capable of 
seeing another fire than that from heaven? IIow many 
different risks did they have to run to learn the most 
common uses of that element? How many times did 
they let it die out before they had acquired the art of 
reproducing it? And how many times, perhaps, did 
each of these secrets die with the ones who had dis¬ 
covered it? What shall we say of agriculture, an art 
which demands so much labor and foresight, which de¬ 
pends on so many other arts, which very clearly is 
practicable only in a society that has at least been 
started, and which does not serve so much to bring 
from the earth foods it would easily provide without 
agriculture as to force from it those preferences most 
to our taste? But let us suppose that men had multi¬ 
plied so greatly that the natural productions no longer 
sufficed to nourish them: a supposition which, it may 
be added in passing, would show a great advantage for 
the human species in that way of life. Let us suppose 
that without forges and workshops, the implements for 
farming had fallen from heaven into the hands of the 
savages; that these men had conquered the mortal 
hatred they all have for continuous labor; that they 
had learned to foresee their needs so long in advance; 
that they had guessed how land must be cultivated, 
grains sown, and trees planted; that they had discovered 
the art of grinding wheat and fermenting grapes—all 
things they would have had to be taught by the gods, 
as it is impossible to imagine how they could have 
learned them by themselves. After that, what man 
would be insane enough to torment himself cultivating 
a field that will be plundered by the first comer, 


whether man or beast, for whom the crop is suitable? 
And how could each man resolve to spend his life in 
hard labor, when the more he will need its reward, the 
more certain he will be of not reaping it? In a word, 
how could this situation incline men to cultivate the 
earth as long as it is not divided among them: that is 
to say, as long as the state of nature is not annihilated? 

Should we want to suppose a savage man as skillful 
in the art of thinking as our philosophers make him; 
should we, following their example, make him a 
philosopher himself, discovering alone the most sub¬ 
lime truths and making for himself, by chains of very 
abstract reasoning, maxims of justice and reason drawn 
from love of order in general or from the known will 
of his creator; in a word, should we suppose his mind 
to have as much intelligence and enlightenment as he 
must and is in fact found to have dullness and stu¬ 
pidity, what utility would the species draw from all this 
metaphysics, which could not be communicated and 
which would perish with the individual who would 
have invented it? What progress could the human race 
make, scattered in the woods among the animals? And 
to what point could men mutually perfect and en¬ 
lighten one another, who, having neither fixed domicile 
nor any need of one another, would perhaps meet 
hardly twice in their lives, without knowing or talking 
to each other. 

Let us consider how many ideas we owe to the use 
of speech; how much grammar trains and facilitates 
the operations of the mind; and let us think of the 

! inconceivable difficulties and the infinite time which 
the first invention of languages must have cost. Join 
these reflections to the preceding ones, and we shall 

120/ second discourse 

judge how many thousands of centuries would have 
been necessary' to develop successively in the human 
mind the operations of which it was capable. 

May I be allowed to consider for an instant the ob¬ 
stacles to the origin of languages. I could be satisfied 
to cite or repeat here the researches that the Abbe de 
Condillac has made on this matter, which all fully con¬ 
firm my sentiment, and which perhaps gave me the 
first idea of it. But since the way this philosopher re¬ 
solves the difficulties he himself raises concerning the 
origin of instituted signs shows that he assumed what I 
question—namely, a kind of society already established 
among the inventors of language—I believe, in refer¬ 
ring to his reflections, that 1 ought to add to them my 
own, in order to present the same difficulties in the 
way that suits my subject. The first that comes up is 
to imagine how language could have become neces¬ 
sary'; for since men had no communication among 
themselves nor any need of it, one can conceive neither 
the necessity of this invention nor its possibility were 
it not indispensable. I might well sayy as many others 
do, that languages were born in the domestic inter¬ 
course of fathers, mothers, and children. But not only 
would that fail to resolve the objections, it would be 
committing the error of those who, reasoning about 
the state of nature, carry' over to it ideas taken from 
society, and always see the family gathered in the same 
habitation and its members maintaining among them¬ 
selves a union as intimate and permanent as among us, 
where so many common interests unite them. Instead, 
in the primitive state, having neither houses, nor huts, 
nor property of any kind, everyone took up his lodging 
by chance and often for only one night. Males and fe- 


males united fortuitously, depending on encounter, oc¬ 
casion, and desire, without speech being a very neces¬ 
sary interpreter of the things they had to say to each 
other; they left each other with the same ease (Z). Hie 
mother nursed her children at first for her own need; 
then, habit having endeared them to her, she nourished 
them afterward for their need. As soon as they had the 
strength to seek their food, they did not delay in leav¬ 
ing the mother herself; and as there was practically 
no other way to find one another again than not to lose 
sight of each other, they were soon at a point of not 
even recognizing one another. Note also that the child 
having all his needs to explain and consequently more 
things to say to the mother than the mother to the 
child, it is the child who must make the greatest efforts 
of invention, and that the language he uses must be in 
great part his own work, which multiplies languages as 
many times as there are individuals to speak them. A 
wandering and vagabond life contributes further to 
this, since it does not give any idiom the time to gain 
consistency. For to say that the mother teaches the 
child the words he ought to use to ask her for a 
particular thing shows well how one teaches already 
formed languages, but it does not teach us how they 
are formed. 

Let us suppose this first difficulty conquered; let us 
skip over for a moment the immense distance there 
must have been between the pure state of nature and 
the need for languages; and let us seek, assuming them 
to be necessary (m), how they could begin to be 
established. New difficulty, worse still than the preced¬ 
ing one. For if men needed speech in order to learn 
to think, they had even greater need of knowing how 

122/ second discourse 

to think in order to discover the art of speech; and even 
should we understand how the sounds of the voice 
were taken for the conventional interpreters of our 
ideas, it would still remain to be seen what could have 
been the specific interpreters of this convention for 
ideas that, having no perceptible object, could be 
indicated neither by gesture nor by voice. So that one 
can hardly form tenable conjectures about the birth of 
this art of communicating thoughts and establishing 
intercourse between minds: a sublime art which is now 
very far from its origin, but which the philosopher still 
sees at so prodigious a distance from its perfection that 
no man is bold enough to guarantee it will ever 
achieve it, even should the revolutions time neces¬ 
sarily brings be suspended in its favor, should prejudices 
quit the academies or be silent before them, and 
should they be able attend to that thorny matter for 
whole centuries without interruption . 28 

Man’s first language, the most universal, most ener¬ 
getic, and only language he needed before it was 
necessary to persuade assembled men, is the cry of 
nature. As this cry was elicited only by a kind of in¬ 
stinct in pressing emergencies, to beg for help in great 
dangers, or for relief in violent ills, it was not of much 
use in the ordinary course of life, where more moderate 
sentiments prevail. When the ideas of men began to 
spread and multiply, and when closer communication 
was established among them, they sought more numer¬ 
ous signs and a more extensive language; they multi¬ 
plied the inflections of the voice, and joined to it 
gestures which are more expressive by their nature, and 
whose meaning is less dependent on prior determina¬ 
tion. They therefore expressed visible and mobile ob- 


jects by gestures, and audible ones by imitative sounds. 
But because gesture indicates hardly anything except 
present or easily described objects and visible actions; 
because its usage is not universal since darkness or the 
interposition of a body render it useless; and since it 
requires attention rather than stimulates it, men finally 
thought to substitute articulations of the voice which, 
without having the same relation to certain ideas, are 
better suited to represent all ideas as instituted signs: a 
substitution which cannot be made except by a com¬ 
mon consent, and in a way rather difficult to practice 
for men whose crude organs as yet had no training, 
and even more difficult to conceive in itself, since that 
unanimous agreement must have had a motive, and 
since speech seems to have been highly necessary in 
order to establish the use of speech. 

One must conclude that the first words men used 
had in their mind a much broader meaning than do 
those used in already formed languages; and being ig¬ 
norant of the division of discourse into its constituent 
parts, they at first gave each word the meaning of a 
whole sentence. When they began to distinguish sub¬ 
ject from attribute and verb from noun, which was no 
small effort of genius, substantives were at first only 
so many proper nouns; the present infinitive was the 
sole tense of verbs; and the notion of adjectives must 
have developed only with great difficulty, because every 
adjective is an abstract word and abstractions are diffi¬ 
cult and not very natural operations. 

Every object received at first a particular name, with¬ 
out regard to genus and species, which these first insti- 
tutors were incapable of distinguishing; and all indi¬ 
vidual things appeared to their minds in isolation as 

124/second discourse 

they are in the panorama of nature. If one oak was 
called A another was called B, for the first idea one 
infers from two things is that they are not the same; 
and often much time is needed to observe what they 
have in common. So that the more limited the knowl¬ 
edge, the more extensive the dictionary. The obstacle 
of all this nomenclature could not easily be removed, 
for in order to organize beings under common and 
generic denominations, it was necessary to know their 
properties and differences. Observations and defini¬ 
tions were necessary—that is to say, much more natural 
history and metaphysics than the men of those times 
could have had. 

Besides, general ideas can come into the mind only 
with the aid of words, and the understanding grasps 
them only through propositions. That is one of the 
reasons why animals can neither formulate such ideas 
nor ever acquire the perfectibility which depends on 
them. When a monkey goes without hesitating from 
one nut to another, is it thought that he has a general 
idea of this kind of fruit and that he compares its 
archetype to these two individuals? Doubtless not; 
but the sight of one of these nuts recalls to his memory 
the sensations he received from the other, and his eyes, 
modified in a certain way, announce to his taste the 
modification it is going to receive. Ever/ general idea 
is purely intellectual; if imagination is in the least 
involved, the idea immediately becomes particular. 
Try to draw for yourself the image of a tree in general, 
you will never succeed in doing it; despite yourself it 
must be seen small or large, sparse or leaf}’, light or 
dark; and if it were up to you to see in it only what is 
found in ever)' tree, this image would no longer re- 


semble a tree. Purely abstract beings are seen in the 
same way, or are conceived only through discourse. 
The definition of the triangle alone gives you the true 
idea of it: as soon as you imagine one in your mind, 
it is a given triangle and not another, and you cannot 
avoid making its lines perceptible or its plane colored. 
It is therefore necessary to state propositions, hence to 
speak, in order to have general ideas; for as soon as the 
imagination stops, the mind goes no further without 
the help of discourse. If, then, the first inventors could 
give names only to ideas they already had, it follows 
that the first substantives could never have been any¬ 
thing but proper nouns. 

But when, by means that I cannot conceive, our new 
grammarians began to extend their ideas and to general¬ 
ize their words, the ignorance of the inventors must 
have subjected this method to very narrow limitations; 
and just as at first they had overly multiplied the names 
of individual things for want of knowing the genera 
and species, they then made too few species and genera 
for want of having considered beings by all their differ¬ 
ences. To extend the divisions far enough would have 
required more experience and enlightenment than they 
could have had, and more research and labor than they 
wanted to put into it. Now if even today new species 
are daily discovered that had eluded all our observa¬ 
tions until now, think how many species must have 
been hidden from men who judged things only on first 
sight! As for primary classes and the most general no¬ 
tions, it is superfluous to add that they still must have 
escaped them. How, for example, would they have 
imagined or understood the words matter, mind, sub¬ 
stance, mode, figure, movement, since our philosophers, 

126/ second discourse 

who have used them for sucli a long time, have much 
trouble understanding them themselves; and since, the 
ideas attached to these words being purely meta¬ 
physical, they found no model of them in nature? 

I stop with these first steps, and beg my judges to 
suspend their reading here to consider, concerning the 
invention of physical substantives alone—that is to say, 
concerning the easiest part of the language to discover 
—how far language still has to go to express all the 
thoughts of men, assume a consistent form, be cap¬ 
able of being spoken in public, and influence society. 
1 beg them to reflect upon how much time and knowl¬ 
edge were necessary to discover numbers (n), abstract 
words, aorists, and all the tenses of verbs, particles, 
syntax, the linking of propositions, reasoning, and the 
forming of all the logic of discourse. For myself, 
frightened by the multiplying difficulties, and convinced 
of the almost demonstrated impossibility that languages 
could have arisen and been established by purely 
human means, I leave to whomever would undertake 
it the discussion of the following difficult problem: 
Which was most necessary, previously formed society 
for the institution of languages; or previously invented 
languages for the establishment of society? 

Whatever these origins may be, from the little care 
taken by nature to bring men together through mutual 
needs and to facilitate their use of speech, one at least 
sees how little it prepared their sociability, and how 
little it contributed to everything men have done to 
establish social bonds. In fact, it is impossible to 
imagine why, in that primitive state, a man would 
sooner have need of another man than a monkey or a 
wolf of its fellow creature; nor, supposing this need, 


what motive could induce the other to provide for it, 
nor even, in this last case, how they could agree be- 
I tween them on the conditions. I know we are re¬ 
peatedly told that nothing would have been so miser¬ 
able as man in that state; and if it is true, as I believe 
I have proved, that only after many centuries could 
1 man have had the desire and opportunity to leave that 
state, it would be a fault to find with nature and not 
with him who would have been so constituted by na¬ 
ture. But if I understand properly this term miserable, 
it is a word that has no meaning or only signifies a 
painful privation and the suffering of the body or soul. 
Now I would really like someone to explain to me 
what type of misery there can be for a free being whose 
heart is at peace and whose body is healthy? I ask 
which, civil or natural life, is most liable to become un¬ 
bearable to those who enjoy it? We see around us 
practically no people who do not complain of their 
existence, even many who deprive themselves of it in¬ 
sofar as they have the capacity; and the combination of 
divine and human laws hardly suffices to stop this dis¬ 
order. I ask if anyone has ever heard it said that a 
savage in freedom even dreamed of complaining about 
life and killing himself. Let it then be judged with less 
pride on which side true misery lies. Nothing, on the 
contrary, would have been so miserable as savage man 
dazzled by enlightenment, tormented by passions, and 
reasoning about a state different from his own. It was 
by a very wise providence that his potential faculties 
were to develop only with the opportunities to exercise 
them, so that they were neither superfluous and burden¬ 
some to him beforehand, nor tardy and useless when 
needed. He had, in instinct alone, everything necessary 


for him to live in the state of nature: he has, in a culti¬ 
vated reason, only what is necessary for him to live in 

It seems at first that men in that state, not having 
among themselves any kind of moral relationship or 
known duties, could be neither good nor evil, and had 
neither vices nor virtues: unless, taking these words in 
a physical sense, one calls vices in the individual the 
qualities that can harm his own preservation, and vir¬ 
tues those that can contribute to it; in which case, it 
would be necessary to call the most virtuous the one 
who least resists the simple impulses of nature. But 
without departing from the ordinary meaning, it is ap¬ 
propriate to suspend the judgment we could make of 
such a situation and to beware of our prejudices, until 
one has examined with scale in hand whether there are 
more virtues than vices among civilized men; or 
whether their virtues are more advantageous than their 
vices are deadly; or whether the progress of their knowl¬ 
edge is a sufficient compensation for the harms they do 
one another as they learn of the good they ought to do; 
or whether all things considered, they would not be 
in a happier situation having neither harm to fear nor 
good to hope for from anyone, rather than subjecting 
themselves to a universal dependence and obliging 
themselves to receive everything from those who do not 
obligate themselves to give them anything. 

Above all, let us not conclude with Hobbes that be¬ 
cause man has no idea of goodness he is naturally evil; 
that he is vicious because he does not know virtue; that 
he always refuses his fellow-men services he does not 
believe he owes them; nor that, by virtue of the right 
he reasonably claims to tilings he needs, lie foolishly 


imagines himself to be the sole proprietor of the whole 
universe. Hobbes saw very clearly the defect of all 
modem definitions of natural right; but the conse¬ 
quences he draws from his own definition show that he 
takes it in a sense which is no less false. Reasoning 
upon the principles he establishes, this author ought to 
have said that since the state of nature is that in which 
care of our self-preservation is the least prejudicial to 
the self-preservation of others, that state was conse¬ 
quently the best suited to peace and the most ap¬ 
propriate for the human race. He says precisely the op¬ 
posite, because of having improperly included in the 
savage man’s care of self-preservation the need to satisfy 
a multitude of passions which are the product of so¬ 
ciety and which have made laws necessary . 29 The evil 
man, he says, is a robust child. It remains to be seen 
whether savage man is a robust child. Should we grant 
this to him, what would he conclude from it? That if, 
when he is robust, this man were as dependent on 
others as when he is weak, there is no kind of excess 
to which he would not be inclined: that he would beat 
his mother when she would be too slow in giving him 
her breast; that he would strangle one of his young 
brothers when he would be inconvenienced by him; 
that he would bite another’s leg when he was hit or 
annoyed by it. But to be robust and to be dependent 
are two contradictory suppositions in the state of na¬ 
ture. Man is weak when he is dependent, and he is 
emancipated before he is robust. Hobbes did not see 
that the same cause that prevents savages from using 
their reason, as our jurists claim, prevents them at the 
same time from abusing their faculties, as he himself 
claims. Thus one could say that savages are not evil 

130/ second discourse 

precisely because they do not know what it is to be 
good; for it is neither the growth of enlightenment nor 
the restraint of law, but the calm of passions and 
the ignorance of vice which prevent them from doing 
evil: Tanto plus in illis proficit vitiorum ignoratio, 
cjuam in his cognitio virtutis . 30 There is, besides, an¬ 
other principle which Hobbes did not notice, and 
which—having been given to man in order to soften, 
under certain circumstances, the ferocity of his vanity 
or the desire for self-preservation before the birth of 
vanity (o) 31 —tempers the ardor he has for his own 
well-being by an innate repugnance to see his fellow- 
man suffer. I do not believe I have any contradiction to 
fear in granting man the sole natural virtue that the 
most excessive detractor of human virtues was forced 
to recognize . 32 I speak of pity, a disposition that is 
appropriate to beings as weak and subject to as many 
ills as we are; a virtue all the more universal and useful 
to man because it precedes in him the use of all reflec¬ 
tion; and so natural that even beasts sometimes give 
perceptible signs of it. Without speaking of the tender¬ 
ness of mothers for their young and of the perils they 
brave to guard them, one observes daily the repugnance 
of horses to trample a living body underfoot. An ani¬ 
mal does not pass near a dead animal of its species with¬ 
out uneasiness. There are even some animals that give 
them a kind of sepulcher; and the sad lowing of cattle 
entering a slaughterhouse announces the impression 
they receive from the horrible sight that strikes them. 
One sees with pleasure the author of the Fable of the 
Bees, forced to recognize man as a compassionate and 
sensitive being, departing from his cold and subtle style 
in the example he gives in order to offer 11s the pathetic 


image of an imprisoned man who sees outside a wild 
beast tearing a child from his mother’s breast, breaking 
his weak limbs in its murderous teeth, and ripping 
apart with its claws the palpitating entrails of this child. 
What horrible agitation must be felt by this witness of 
an event in which he takes no personal interest! What 
anguish must he suffer at this sight, unable to bring, 
help to the fainting mother or to the dying child . 33 

Such is the pure movement of nature prior to all 
reflection. Such is the force of natural pity, which the 
most depraved morals still have difficulty destroying, 
since daily in our theaters one sees, moved and crying, 
for the troubles of an unfortunate person, a man who, 
if he were in the tyrant’s place, would aggravate his 
enemy’s torments even more—like bloodthirsty Sulla, 
so sensitive to ills he had not caused , 34 or like Alexander 
of Pherae, who did not dare attend the performance of 
any tragedy lest he be seen moaning with Andromache 
and Priam, whereas he listened without emotion to the 
cries of so many citizens murdered daily on his orders . 35 

Mollissima corda 

Humano generi dare se natura fatetur. 

Quae lacrimas dedit . 36 

Mandeville sensed very well that even with all their 
ethics men would never have been anything but 
monsters if nature had not given them pity in support 
of reason; but he did not see that from this quality 
alone flow all the social virtues he wants to question 
in men. In fact, what are generosity, clemency, hu¬ 
manity, if not pity applied to the weak, to the guilty, 
or to the human species in general? Benevolence and 
even friendship are, rightly understood, the products 

132/ second discourse 

of a constant pity fixed on a particular object: for is 
desiring that someone not suffer anything but desiring 
that he be happy? Even should it be true that com¬ 
miseration is only a sentiment that puts us in the posi¬ 
tion of him who suffers—a sentiment that is obscure 
and strong in savage man, developed but weak in 
civilized man—what would this idea matter to the 
truth of what I say, except to give it more force? In 
fact, commiseration will be all the more energetic as 
the observing animal identifies himself more intimately 
with the suffering animal. Now it is evident that this 
identification must have been infinitely closer in the 
state of nature than in the state of reasoning. Reason 
engenders vanity and reflection fortifies it; reason turns 
man back upon himself, it separates him from all that 
bothers and afflicts him. Philosophy isolates him; be¬ 
cause of it he says in secret, at the sight of a suffering 
man: Perish if you will, I am safe. No longer can any¬ 
thing except dangers to the entire society trouble the 
tranquil sleep of the philosopher and tear him from 
his bed. Plis fellow-man can be murdered with impunity 
right under his window; he has only to put his hands 
over his ears and argue with himself a bit to prevent 
nature, which revolts within him, from identifying him 
with the man who is being assassinated. Savage man 
does not have this admirable talent, and for want of 
wisdom and reason he is always seen heedlessly yielding 
to the first sentiment of humanity. In riots or street 
fights the populace assembles, the prudent man moves 
away; it is the rabble, the marketwomen, who separate 
the combatants and prevent honest people from mur¬ 
dering each other. 

It is very certain, therefore, that pity is a natural 


sentiment which, moderating in each individual the 
activity of love of oneself, contributes to the mutual 
preservation of the entire species. It carries us without 
reflection to the aid of those whom we sec suffer; in the 
state of nature, it takes the place of laws, morals, and 
virtue, with the advantage that no one is tempted to 
disobey its gentle voice; it will dissuade every robust 
savage from robbing a weak child or an infirm old man 
of his hard-won subsistence if he himself hopes to be 
able to find his own elsewhere. Instead of that sub¬ 
lime maxim of reasoned justice, Do unto others as you 
would have them do unto you, it inspires all men with 
this other maxim of natural goodness, much less per¬ 
fect but perhaps more useful than the preceding one: 
Do what is good for you with the least possible harm 
to others. In a word, it is in this natural sentiment, 
rather than in subtle arguments, that we must seek the 
cause of the repugnance every man would feel in doing 
evil, even independently of the maxims of education. 
Although it may behoove Socrates and minds of his 
stamp to acquire virtue through reason, the human 
race would have perished long ago if its preservation 
had depended only on the reasonings of its members. 

With such inactive passions and such a salutary re¬ 
straint, men—more untamed than evil, and more at¬ 
tentive to protecting themselves from harm they could 
receive than tempted to harm others—were not subject 
to very dangerous quarrels. Since they had no kind of 
commerce among themselves; since they consequently 
knew neither vanity, nor consideration, nor esteem, nor 
contempt; since they did not have the slightest notion 
of thine and mine, nor any true idea of justice; since 
they regarded the violences they might suffer as harm 

134/second discourse 

easy to redress and not as an insult which must be 
punished, and since they did not even dream of venge¬ 
ance, except perhaps mechanically and on the spot, like 
the dog that bites the stone thrown at him, their dis¬ 
putes would rarely have had bloody consequences had 
there been no more sensitive subject than food. But 
I see a more dangerous subject left for me to discuss. 

Among the passions that agitate the heart of man, 
there is an ardent, impetuous one that makes one sex 
necessary to the other; a terrible passion which braves all 
dangers, overcomes all obstacles, and which, in its fur}-, 
seems fitted to destroy the human race it is destined to 
preserve. What would become of men, tormented by 
this unrestrained and brutal rage, without chastity, 
without modesty, daily fighting over their loves at the 
price of their blood? 

It must first be agreed that the more violent the 
passions, the more necessary laws are to contain them. 
But besides the fact that the disorders and crimes these 
passions cause every day among us show well enough 
the inadequacy of laws in this regard, it would still be 
good to examine whether these disorders did not arise 
with the laws themselves; for then, even should they 
be capable of repressing these disorders, the very least 
that ought to be required of the laws is to stop an evil 
which would not exist without them. 

Let us begin by distinguishing between the moral 
and the physical in the sentiment of love. The physical 
is that general desire which inclines one sex to unite 
with the other. The moral is that which determines this 
desire and fixes it exclusively on a single object, or 
which at least gives it a greater degree of energy for 
this preferred object. Now it is easy to see that the 


moral element of love is an artificial sentiment born 
of the usage of society, and extolled with much skill 
and care by women in order to establish their as¬ 
cendancy and make dominant the sex that ought to 
obey. This sentiment, founded on certain notions of 
merit or beauty that a savage is not capable of having, 
and on comparisons he is not capable of making, must 
be almost null for him. For as his mind could not form 
abstract ideas of regularity and proportion, so his heart 
is not susceptible to the sentiments of admiration and 
love that, even without its being noticed, arise from the 
application of these ideas. He heeds solely the tempera¬ 
ment he received from nature, and not the taste he 
has not been able to acquire; any woman is good for 

Limited solely to that which is physical in love, and 
fortunate enough to be ignorant of those preferences 
that irritate its sentiment and augment its difficulties, 
men must feel the ardors of their temperament less 
frequently and less vividly, and consequently have fewer 
and less cruel disputes among themselves. Imagination, 
which causes so much havoc among us, does not speak 
to savage hearts. Everyone peaceably waits for the im¬ 
pulsion of nature, yields to it without choice with more 
pleasure than frenzy; and the need satisfied, all desire 
is extinguished. 

It is therefore incontestable that love itself, like all 
the other passions, has acquired only in society that im¬ 
petuous ardor which so often makes it fatal for men; 
and it is all the more ridiculous to portray savages con¬ 
tinually murdering each other to satisfy their brutality 
as this opinion is directly contrary to experience, and as 
the Caribs, that of all existing peoples which until now 

136/ second discourse 

has departed least from the state of nature, are pre¬ 
cisely the most peaceful in their loves and the least 
subject to jealousy, even though they live in a burning 
hot climate, which always seems to give greater activity 
to these passions. 

Regarding inferences that one could draw, in some 
species of animals, from the fights of males which 
bloody our farmyards in all seasons or which make our 
forests resound with their cries in Spring as they con¬ 
tend for a female, it is necessary to begin by excluding 
all species in which nature has manifestly established, 
in the relative power of the sexes, other relations than 
among us: thus cockfights do not provide an inference 
for the human species. In species where the proportion 
is better observed, these fights can have for causes only 
the scarcity of females with reference to the number of 
males, or the exclusive intervals during which the fe¬ 
male constantly refuses to let the male approach her, 
which amounts to the first cause; for if each female 
tolerates the male during only two months of the year, 
in this respect it is the same as if the number of fe¬ 
males were reduced bv five-sixths. Now neither of these 


two cases is applicable to the human species, in which 
the number of females generally surpasses the number 
of males, and in which it has never been observed that, 
even among savages, females, like those of other species, 
have times of heat and exclusion. Moreover, among 
some of these animals, since the entire species enters a 
state of heat at the same time, there comes a terrible 
moment of general ardor, tumult, disorder, and fight¬ 
ing: a moment that does not take place in the human 
species, in which love is never periodic. Therefore one 
cannot conclude from the fights of certain animals 


for the possession of females that the same thing would 
happen to man in the state of nature. And even if one 
could draw that conclusion, as these dissensions do not 
destroy the other species, one must consider at least 
that they would not be more fatal to ours; and it is 
very apparent that they would cause still less havoc in 
the state of nature than they do in society, particularly 
in countries where, morals still counting for something, 
the jealousy of lovers and the vengeance of husbands 
are a daily cause of duels, murders, and worse things; 
where the obligation to eternal fidelity serves only to 
create adulterers; and where even the laws of conti¬ 
nence and honor necessarily spread debauchery and 
multiply abortions. 

Let us conclude that wandering in the forests, with¬ 
out industry, without speech, without domicile, without 
war and without liaisons, with no need of his fellow- 
men, likewise with no desire to harm them, perhaps 
never even recognizing anyone individually, savage man, 
subject to few passions and self-sufficient, had only the 
sentiments and intellect suited to that state; he felt 
only his true needs, saw only what he believed he had 
an interest to see; and his intelligence made no more 
progress than his vanity. If by chance he made some 
discoverv, he was all the less able to communicate if 
because he did not recognize even his children. Art 
perished with the inventor. There was neither educa¬ 
tion nor progress; the generations multiplied uselessly; 
and everyone always starting from the same point, 
centuries passed in all the crudeness of the first ages; 
the species was already old, and man remained ever a 

If I have spent so much time on the supposition of 

138/ second discourse 

this primitive condition, it is because, having ancient 
errors and inveterate prejudices to destroy, I thought I 
ought to dig down to the root and show, in the pano¬ 
rama of the true state of nature, how far even natural 
inequality is from having as much reality and influence 
in that state as our writers claim. 

In fact, it is easy to see that, among the differences 
that distinguish men, some pass for natural that are 
uniquely the work of habit and the various types of life 
men adopt in society. Thus a robust or delicate tem¬ 
perament, and the strength or weakness that depend on 
it, often come more from the harsh or effeminate wav 
in which one has been raised than from the primitive 
constitution of bodies. The same is true of strength of 
mind; and not only docs education establish a differ¬ 
ence between cultivated minds and those which are 
not, but it augments the difference among the former 
in proportion to their culture; for should a giant and a 
dwarf walk on the same road, every step they both take 
will give fresh advantage to the giant. Now if one com¬ 
pares the prodigious diversity of educations and types 
of life that prevails in the different orders of the civil 
state with the simplicity and uniformity of animal and 
savage life, in which all nourish themselves on the 
same foods, live in the same manner, and do exactly 
the same things, it will be understood how much less 
the difference between one man and another must be 
in the state of nature than in society, and how much 
natural inequality must increase in the human species 
through instituted inequality. 

But even should nature assign as many preferences 
in the distribution of its gifts as is claimed, what ad¬ 
vantage would the most favored draw from them to the 


prejudice of others in a state of things which permitted 
almost no sort of relationship among them? Where 
there is no love, of what use is beauty? What is the 
use of wit for people who do not speak, and ruse for 
those who have no dealings? I hear it always repeated 
that the stronger will oppress the weak. But let some¬ 
one explain to me what is meant by this word oppres¬ 
sion. Some will dominate by violence, the others will 
groan, enslaved to all their whims. That is precisely 
what I observe among us; but I do not see how that 
could be said of savage men, to whom one would even 
have much trouble explaining what servitude and 
domination are. A man might well seize the fruits an¬ 
other has gathered, the game he has killed, the cave 
that served as his shelter; but how will he ever succeed 
in making himself obeyed? And what can be the chains 
of dependence among men who possess nothing? If 
someone chases me from one tree, I am at liberty to go 
to another; if someone torments me in one place, who 
will prevent me from going elsewhere? Is there a man 
whose strength is sufficiently superior to mine and who 
is, in addition, depraved enough, lazy enough, and 
wild enough to force me to provide for his subsistence 
while he remains idle? He must resolve not to lose 
sight of me for a single moment and to keep me very 
carefully tied up during his sleep, for fear that I should 
escape or kill him—that is to say, he is obliged to expose 
himself voluntarily to much greater trouble than he 
wants to avoid and gives to me. After all that, should 
his vigilance relax for a moment, should an unforseen 
noise make him turn his head, I take twenty steps in 
the forest, my chains are broken, and he never in his 
life sees me again. 

140 /second discourse 

Without uselessly prolonging these details, every¬ 
one must see that, since the bonds 1 of servitude are 
formed only from the mutual dependence of men and 
the reciprocal needs that unite them, it is impossible 
to enslave a man without first putting him in the posi¬ 
tion of being unable to do without another; a situation 
which, as it did not exist in the state of nature, leaves 
each man there free of the yoke, and renders vain the 
law of the stronger. 

After having proved that inequality is barely percep¬ 
tible in the state of nature, and that its influence 
there is almost null, it remains for me to show its ori¬ 
gin and progress in the successive developments of the 
human mind. After having shown that perfectibility, 
social virtues, and the other faculties that natural 
man had received in potentiality could never develop 
by themselves, that in order to develop they needed 
the chance combination of several foreign causes which 
might never have arisen and without which he would 
have remained eternally in his primitive condition, it 
remains for me to consider and bring together the 
different accidents that were able to perfect human 
reason while deteriorating the species, make a being 
evil while making him sociable, and from such a distant 
origin finally bring man and the world to the point 
where we see them. 

I admit that as the events I have to describe could 
have happened in several ways, I can make a choice 
only by conjectures. But besides the fact that these 
conjectures become reasons when they arc the most 
probable that one can draw from the nature of things, 
and the sole means that one can have to discover the 
truth, the conclusions I want to deduce from mine will 


not thereby be conjectural, since, on the principles I 
have established, one could not conceive of any other 
system that would not provide me with the same re¬ 
sults, and from which I could not draw the same con¬ 

This will excuse me from expanding my reflections 
concerning the way in which the lapse of time compen¬ 
sates for the slight probability of events; concerning 
the surprising power of very trivial causes when they 
act without interruption; concerning the impossibility, 
on the one hand, for one to destroy certain hypotheses, 
although on the other one cannot give them the degree 
of certainty of facts; concerning how, when two facts 
given as real are to be connected by a series of inter¬ 
mediate facts which are unknown or considered as such, 
it is up to history, when it exists, to present the facts 
that connect them; while it is up to philosophy, when 
history is lacking, to determine similar facts that might 
connect them; finally, concerning how, with reference 
to events, similarity reduces the facts to a much 
smaller number of different classes than is imagined. 
It is enough for me to offer these objects to the con¬ 
sideration of my judges; it is enough for me to have ar¬ 
ranged it so that vulgar readers would have no need 
to consider them. 


The first person who, having fenced off a plot of 
ground, took it into his head to say this is mine and 
found people simple enough to believe him, was the 
true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, mur¬ 
ders, what miseries and horrors would the human race 
have been spared by someone who, uprooting the stakes 

142 /second discourse 

or filling in the ditch, had shouted to his fellow-men: 
Beware of listening to this impostor; you are lost if 
you forget that the fruits belong to all and the earth 
to no one! But it is very likely that by then things had 
already come to the point where they could no longer 
remain as they were. For this idea of property, depend¬ 
ing on many prior ideas which could only have arisen 
successively, was not conceived all at once in the human 
mind. It was necessary to make much progress, to ac¬ 
quire much industry and enlightenment, and to trans¬ 
mit and augment them from age to age, before arriving 
at this last stage of the state of nature. Therefore let 
us start further back in time and attempt to assemble 
from a single point of view this slow succession of 
events and knowledge in their most natural order. 

Man’s first sentiment was that of his existence, his 
first care that of his preservation. The products of 
the earth furnished him with all the necessary help; 
instinct led him to make use of them. Hunger and 
other appetites making him experience by turns various 
manners of existing, there was one appetite that in¬ 
vited him to perpetuate his species; and this blind 
inclination, devoid of any sentiment of the heart, pro¬ 
duced only a purely animal act. This need satisfied, 
the two sexes no longer recognized each other, and 
even the child no longer meant anything to his mother 
as soon as he could do without her. 

Such was the condition of nascent man; such was 
the life of an animal limited at first to pure sensations 
and scarcely profiting from the gifts nature offered 
him, far from dreaming of wresting anything from it. 
But difficulties soon arose; it was necessary to learn 
to conquer them. The height of trees, which prevented 


him from reaching their fruits, the competition of 
animals that sought to nourish themselves with these 
fruits, the ferocity of those animals that wanted to take 
his very life, all obliged him to apply himself to bodily 
exercises. It was necessary to become agile, fleet in 
running, vigorous in combat. Natural arms, which are 
branches of trees and stones, were soon discovered at 
hand. He learned to surmount nature’s obstacles, com¬ 
bat other animals when necessary, fight for his subsis¬ 
tence even with men, or make up for what had to be 
yielded to the stronger. 

In proportion as the human race spread, difficulties 
multiplied along with men. Differences of soil, climate, 
and season could force them to admit differences in 
their ways of life. Barren years, long and hard winters, 
and scorching summers which consume everything 
required of them new industry. Along the sea and rivers 
they invented the fishing line and hook, and became 
fishermen and eaters of fish. In forests they made bows 
and arrows, and became hunters and warriors. In cold 
countries they covered themselves with the skins of 
beasts they had killed. Lightning, a volcano, or some 
happy accident introduced them to fire, a new re¬ 
source against the rigor of winter. They learned to 
preserve this element, then to reproduce it, and finally 
to prepare with it meats they previously devoured raw. 

This repeated utilization of various beings in relation 
to himself, and of some beings in relation to others, 
must naturally have engendered in man’s mind percep¬ 
tions of certain relations. Those relationships that we 
express by the words large, small, strong, weak, fast, 
slow, fearful, bold, and other similar ideas, compared 
when necessary and almost without thinking about it, 

144 /second discourse 

finally produced in him some sort of reflection, or 
rather a mechanical prudence that indicated to him 
the precautions most necessary for his safety. 

The new enlightenment that resulted from this de¬ 
velopment increased his superiority over the other 
animals by making him aware of his superiority. He 
practiced setting traps for them; he tricked them in a 
thousand ways; and although several surpassed him in 
strength at fighting, or in speed at running, of those 
which might serve him or hurt him he became with 
time the master of the former, and the scourge of the 
latter. Thus the first glance he directed upon himself 
produced in him the first stirring of pride; thus, as yet 
scarcely knowing how to distinguish ranks, and consid¬ 
ering himself in the first rank as a species, he prepared 
himself from afar to claim first rank as an individual. 

Although his fellow-men were not for him what they 
are for us, and although he scarcely had more inter¬ 
course with them than with other animals, they were 
not forgotten in his observations. The conformities that 
time could make him perceive among them, his female, 
and himself led him to judge of those which he did 
not perceive; and seeing that they all behaved as he 
would have done under similar circumstances, he con¬ 
cluded that their way of thinking and feeling conformed 
entirely to his own. And this important truth, well 
established in his mind, made him follow, by a premo¬ 
nition as sure as dialectic and more prompt, the best 
rules of conduct that it was suitable to observe toward 
them for his advantage and safety. 

Taught by experience that love of well-being is the 
sole motive of human actions, he found himself able 
to distinguish the rare occasions when common interest 


should make him count on the assistance of his fellow- 
men, and those even rarer occasions when competition 
should make him distrust them. In the first case he 
united with them in a herd; or at most by some kind 
of free association that obligated no one and lasted 
only as long as the passing need that had formed it. 
In the second case, everyone sought to obtain his own 
advantage, either by naked force if he believed he could, 
or by cleverness and cunning if he felt himself to be 
the weaker. 

That is how men could imperceptibly acquire some 
crude idea of mutual engagements and of the advan¬ 
tages of fulfilling them, but only insofar as present and 
perceptible interest could require; for foresight meant 
nothing to them, and far from being concerned about 
a distant future, they did not even think of the next 
day. Was it a matter of catching a deer, everyone 
clearly felt that for this purpose he ought faithfully to 
keep his post; but if a hare happened to pass within 
reach of one of them, there can be no doubt that he 
pursued it without scruple, and that having obtained 
his prey, he cared very little about having caused his 
companions to miss theirs. 

It is easy to understand that such intercourse did 
not require a language much more refined than that of 
crows or monkeys, which group together in approxi¬ 
mately the same way. For a long time inarticulate 
cries, many gestures, and some imitative noises must 
have composed the universal language; by joining to 
this in each country a few articulated and conventional 
sounds—the institution of which, as I have already 
said, is not too easy to explain—there were particular 
languages, but crude imperfect ones, approximately 

146 /second discourse 

like those which various savage nations still have today. 

I cover multitudes of centuries like a flash, forced 
by the time that elapses, the abundance of things I 
have to say, and the almost imperceptible progress of 
the beginnings; for the more slowly events followed 
upon one another, the more quickly they can be de¬ 

These first advances finally put man in a position 
to make more rapid ones. The more the mind was 
enlightened, the more industry was perfected. Soon, 
ceasing to fall asleep under the first tree or to with¬ 
draw into caves, they discovered some kinds of hatchets 
of hard, sharp stones, which served to cut wood, scoop 
out earth, and make huts from branches they later de¬ 
cided to coat with clay and mud. This was the epoch of 
a first revolution, which produced the establishment 
and differentiation of families, and which introduced 
a sort of property—from which perhaps many quarrels 
and fights already arose. However, as the stronger 
were probably the first to make themselves lodgings 
they felt capable of defending, it is to be presumed 
that the weak found it quicker and safer to imitate 
them than to try to dislodge them; and as for 
those who already had huts, each man must seldom 
have sought to appropriate his neighbor’s, less because 
it did not belong to him than because it was of no use 
to him, and because he could not seize it without ex¬ 
posing himself to a lively fight with the family occupy¬ 
ing it. 

The first developments of the heart were the effect 
of a new situation, which united husbands and wives, 
fathers and children in a common habitation. The habit 
of living together gave rise to the sweetest sentiments 


known to men: conjugal love and paternal love. Each 
family became a little society all the better united be¬ 
cause reciprocal affection and freedom were its only 
bonds; and it was then that the first difference was 
established in the way of life of the two sexes, which 
until this time had had but one. Women became more 
sedentary and grew accustomed to tend the hut and 
the children, while the man went to seek their common 
subsistence. The two sexes also began, by their slightly 
softer life, to lose something of their ferocity and vigor. 
But if each one separately became less suited to com¬ 
bat savage beasts, on the contrary it was easier to as¬ 
semble in order to resist them jointly. 

In this new state, with a simple and solitary life, 
very limited needs, and the implements they had in¬ 
vented to provide for them, since men enjoyed very 
great leisure, they used it to procure many kinds of 
commodities unknown to their fathers; and that was 
the first yoke they imposed on themselves without 
thinking about it, and the first source of the evils they 
prepared for their descendants. For, besides their con¬ 
tinuing thus to soften body and mind, as these com¬ 
modities had lost almost all their pleasantness through 
habit, and as they had at the same time degenerated 
into true needs, being deprived of them became much 
more cruel than possessing them was sweet; and people 
were unhappy to lose them without being happy to 
possess them. 

At this point one catches a slightly better glimpse 
of how the use of speech was established or perfected 
imperceptibly in the bosom of each family; and one 
can conjecture further how particular causes could 
have spread language and accelerated its progress by 

148 /second discourse 

making it more necessary. Great floods or earthquakes 
surrounded inhabited cantons with water or precipices; 
revolutions of the globe detached and broke up portions 
of the continent into islands. One conceives that 
among men thus brought together and forced to live 
together, a common idiom must have been formed 
sooner than among those who wandered freely in the 
forests on solid ground. Thus it is very possible that 
after their first attempts at navigation, islanders brought 
the use of speech to us; and it is at least very probable 
that society and languages came into being on islands 
and were perfected there before they were known on 
the continent. 

Everything begins to change its appearance. Men 
who until this time wandered in the woods, having 
adopted a more fixed settlement, slowly come together, 
unite into different bands, and finally form in each 
country a particular nation, unified by customs and 
character, not by regulations and laws but by the same 
kind of life and foods and by the common influence of 
climate. A permanent proximity cannot fail to engender 
at length some contact between different families. 
Young people of different sexes live in neighboring huts; 
the passing intercourse demanded by nature soon leads 
to another kind no less sweet and more permanent 
through mutual frequentation. People grow accustomed 
to consider different objects and to make comparisons; 
imperceptibly they acquire ideas of merit and beauty 
which produce sentiments of preference. By dint of 
seeing one another, they can no longer do without 
seeing one another again. A tender and gentle senti¬ 
ment is gradually introduced into the soul and at the 
least obstacle becomes an impetuous fury. Jealousy 


awakens with love; discord triumphs, and the gentlest 
of the passions receives sacrifices of human blood. 

In proportion as ideas and sentiments follow upon 
one another and as mind and heart are trained, the 
human race continues to be tamed, contacts spread, 
and bonds are tightened. People grew accustomed to 
assembling in front of the huts or around a large tree; 
song and dance, true children of love and leisure, be¬ 
came the amusement or rather the occupation of idle 
and assembled men and women. Each one began to 
look at the others and to want to be looked at himself, 
and public esteem had a value. The one who sang or 
danced the best, the handsomest, the strongest, the 
most adroit, or the most eloquent became the most 
highly considered; and that was the first step toward 
inequality and, at the same time, toward vice. From 
these first preferences were bom on one hand vanity 
and contempt, on the other shame and envy; and the 
fermentation caused by these new leavens eventually 
produced compounds fatal to happiness and innocence. 

As soon as men had begun to appreciate one another, 
and the idea of consideration was formed in their minds, 
each one claimed a right to it, and it was no longer 
possible to be disrespectful toward anyone with im¬ 
punity. From this came the first duties of civility, even 
among savages; and from this any voluntary wrong 
became an outrage, because along with the harm that 
resulted from the injury, the offended man saw in it 
contempt for his person which was often more unbear¬ 
able than the harm itself. Thus, everyone punishing 
the contempt shown him by another in a manner pro¬ 
portionate to the importance he accorded himself, 
vengeances became terrible, and men bloodthirsty and 

150/second discourse 

cruel. This is precisely the point reached by most of 
the savage peoples known to us, and it is for want of 
having sufficiently distinguished between ideas and 
noticed how far these peoples already were from the 
first state of nature that many have hastened to con¬ 
clude that man is naturally cruel, and that he needs 
civilization in order to make him gentler. On the con¬ 
trary, nothing is so gentle as man in his primitive state 
when, placed by nature at equal distances from the 
stupidity of brutes and the fatal enlightenment of civil 
man, and limited equally by instinct and reason to 
protecting himself from the harm that threatens him, 
he is restrained by natural pity from harming anyone 
himself, and nothing leads him to do so even after he 
has received harm. For, according to the axiom of the 
wise Locke, where there is no property, there is no 
injury . 31 

But it must be noted that the beginnings of society 
and the relations already established among men re¬ 
quired in them qualities different from those they 
derived from their primitive constitution; that, morality 
beginning to be introduced into human actions, and 
each man, prior to laws, being sole judge and avenger 
of the offenses he had received, the goodness suitable 
for the pure state of nature was no longer that which 
suited nascent society; that it was necessary for punish¬ 
ments to become more severe as the occasions for offense 
became more frequent; and that it was up to the terror 
of revenge to take the place of the restraint of laws. 
Thus although men had come to have less endurance 
and although natural pity had already undergone some 
alteration, this period of the development of human 
faculties, maintaining a golden mean between the indo- 


lence of the primitive state and the petulant activity 
of our vanity, must have been the happiest and most 
durable epoch. The more one thinks about it, the more 
one finds that this state was the least subject to revolu¬ 
tions, the best for man ( p ), and that he must have come 
out of it only by some fatal accident, which for the com¬ 
mon good ought never to have happened. The example 
of savages, who have almost all been found at this point, 
seems to confirm that the human race was made to 
remain in it always; that this state is the veritable prime 
of the world; and that all subsequent progress has been 
in appearance so many steps toward the perfection of 
the individual, and in fact toward the decrepitude of 
the species. 

As long as men were content with their rustic huts, 
as long as they were limited to sewing their clothing 
of skins with thorns or fish bones, adorning themselves 
with feathers and shells, painting their bodies with 
various colors, perfecting or embellishing their bows 
and arrows, carving with sharp stones a few fishing 
canoes or a few crude musical instruments; in a word, 
as long as they applied themselves only to tasks that 
a single person could do and to arts that did not require 
the cooperation of several hands, they lived free, 
healthy, good, and happy insofar as they could be 
according to their nature, and they continued to enjoy 
among themselves the sweetness of independent inter¬ 
course. But from the moment one man needed the help 
of another, as soon as they observed that it was useful 
for a single person to have provisions for two, equality 
disappeared, property was introduced, labor became 
necessary; and vast forests were changed into smiling 
fields which had to be watered with the sweat of men, 

152 /second discourse 

and in which slaver)' and miser)' were soon seen to 
germinate and grow with the crops. 

Metallurgy and agriculture were the two arts whose 
invention produced this great revolution. For the poet 
it is gold and silver, but for the philosopher it is iron 
and wheat which have civilized men and ruined the 
human race . 38 Accordingly, both of these were unknown 
to the savages of America, who therefore have always 
remained savage; other peoples even seem to have re¬ 
mained barbarous as long as they practiced one of these 
arts without the other. And perhaps one of the best 
reasons why Europe has been, if not earlier, at least 
more constantly and better civilized than the other 
parts of the world is that it is at the same time the most 
abundant in iron and the most fertile in wheat. It is 
very difficult to guess how men came to know and use 
iron; for it is not credible that by themselves they 
thought of drawing the raw material from the mine 
and giving it the necessary preparations to fuse it be¬ 
fore they knew what would result. From another point 
of view, it is even harder to attribute this discover)' to 
some accidental fire, because mines are formed only 
in arid spots, stripped of both trees and plants; so that 
one would say that nature had taken precautions to 
hide this deadly secret from us. There only remains, 
therefore, the extraordinary circumstance of some 
volcano which, by throwing up metallic materials in 
fusion, would have given observers the idea of imitating 
this operation of nature. Even so, it is necessary to sup¬ 
pose in them much courage and foresight to undertake 
such difficult labor and to envisage so far in advance the 
advantages they could gain from it: all of which 
hardly suits minds that are not already more trained 
than theirs must have been. 


With regard to agriculture, its principle was known 
long before its practice was established, and it is hardly 
possible that men, constantly occupied with obtaining 
their subsistence from trees and plants, did not rather 
promptly have an idea of the ways used by nature to 
grow plants. But their industry probably turned in 
that direction only very late, either because trees, which 
along with hunting and fishing provided their food, 
did not have need of their care; or for want of knowing 
how to use wheat; or for want of implements to culti¬ 
vate it; or for want of foresight concerning future need; 
or, finally, for want of means to prevent others from 
appropriating the fruit of their labor. Once they be¬ 
came industrious, it is credible that, with sharp stones 
and pointed sticks, they began by cultivating a few 
vegetables or roots around their huts long before they 
knew how to prepare wheat and had the implements 
necessary for large-scale cultivation. Besides, to devote 
oneself to that occupation and seed the land, one must 
be resolved to lose something at first in order to gain 
a great deal later: a precaution very far from the turn 
of mind of savage man, who, as I have said, has great 
difficulty thinking in the morning of his needs for the 

The invention of the other arts was therefore neces¬ 
sary to force the human race to apply itself to that of 
agriculture. As soon as some men were needed to smelt 
and forge iron, other men were needed to feed them. 
The more the number of workers was multiplied, the 
fewer hands were engaged in furnishing the common 
subsistence, without there being fewer mouths to con¬ 
sume it; and since some needed foodstuffs in exchange 
for their iron, the others finally found the secret of using 
iron in order to multiply foodstuffs. From this arose 

154/second discourse 

husbandry and agriculture on the one hand, and on the 
other the art of working metals and multiplying their 

From the cultivation of land, its division necessarily 
followed; and from property once recognized, the first 
rules of justice. For in order to give everyone what is 
his, it is necessary that everyone can have something; 
moreover, as men began to look to the future and as 
they all saw themselves with some goods to lose, there 
was not one of them who did not have to fear reprisals 
against himself for wrongs he might do to another. 
This origin is all the more natural as it is impossible 
to conceive of the idea of property arising from any¬ 
thing except manual labor; because one can not see 
what man can add, other than his own labor, in order 
to appropriate things he has not made. It is labor alone 
which, giving the cultivator a right to the product of 
the land he has tilled, gives him a right to the soil as 
a consequence, at least until the harvest, and thus from 
year to year; which, creating continuous possession, is 
easily transformed into property. When the ancients, 
says Grotius, gave Ceres the epithet of lcgislatrix, and 
gave the name of Thesmaphories to a festival celebrated 
in her honor, they thereby made it clear that the divi¬ 
sion of lands produced a new kind of right: that is, 
the right of property, different from the one which 
results from natural law . 39 

Things in this state could have remained equal if 
talents had been equal, and if, for example, the use of 
iron and the consumption of foodstuffs had always been 
exactly balanced. But this proportion, which nothing 
maintained, was soon broken; the stronger did more 
work; the cleverer turned his to better advantage; the 


more ingenious found ways to shorten his labor; the 
farmer had greater need of iron or the blacksmith 
greater need of wheat; and working equally, the one 
earned a great deal while the other barely had enough to 
live. Thus does natural inequality imperceptibly mani¬ 
fest itself along with contrived inequality; and thus do 
the differences among men, developed by those of cir¬ 
cumstances, become more perceptible, more permanent 
in their effects, and begin to have a proportionate in¬ 
fluence over the fate of individuals. 

Things having reached this point, it is easy to imagine 
the rest. I shall not stop to describe the successive in¬ 
vention of the other arts, the progress of languages, 
the testing and use of talents, the inequality of for¬ 
tunes, the use or abuse of wealth, nor all the details that 
follow these, and that everyone can easily fill in. I shall 
simply limit myself to casting a glance at the human 
race placed in this new order of things. 

Behold all our faculties developed, memory and imag¬ 
ination in play, vanity aroused, reason rendered active, 
and the mind having almost reached the limit of the 
perfection of which it is susceptible. Behold all the nat¬ 
ural qualities put into action, the rank and fate of each 
man established, not only upon the quantity of goods 
and the power to serve or harm, but also upon the 
mind, beauty, strength, or skill, upon merit or talents. 
And these qualities being the only ones which could 
attract consideration, it was soon necessary to have 
them or affect them; for one’s own advantage, it was 
necessary to appear to be other than what one in fact 
was. To be and to seem to be became two altogether 
different things; and from this distinction came con¬ 
spicuous ostentation, deceptive cunning, and all the 

156/ second discourse 

vices that follow from them. From another point of 
view, having formerly been free and independent, be¬ 
hold man, due to a multitude of new needs, subjected 
so to speak to all of nature and especially to his fellow- 
men, whose slave he becomes in a sense even in be¬ 
coming their master; rich, he needs their services; poor, 
he needs their help; and mediocrity cannot enable him 
to do without them . 40 He must therefore incessantly 
seek to interest them in his fate, and to make them 
find their own profit, in fact or in appearance, in work¬ 
ing for his. This makes him deceitful and sly with some, 
imperious and harsh with others, and makes it neces¬ 
sary for him to abuse all those whom he needs when 
he cannot make them fear him and does not find his 
interest in serving them usefully. Finally, consuming 
ambition, the fervor to raise one’s relative fortune less 
out of true need than in order to place oneself above 
others, inspires in all men a base inclination to harm 
each other, a secret jealousy all the more dangerous 
because, in order to strike its blow in greater safety, it 
often assumes the mask of benevolence: in a word, 
competition and rivalry on one hand, opposition of in¬ 
terest on the other; and always the hidden desire to 
profit at the expense of others. All these evils are the 
first effect of property and the inseparable consequence 
of nascent inequality. 

Before representative signs of wealth had been in¬ 
vented, it could hardly consist of anything except land 
and livestock, the only real goods men can possess. 
Now when inheritances had increased in number and 
extent to the point of covering the entire earth and of 
all bordering on each other, some of them could no 
longer be enlarged except at the expense of others; and 


the supernumeraries, whom weakness or indolence had 
prevented from acquiring an inheritance in their turn, 
having become poor without having lost anything— 
because while everything around them changed they 
alone had not changed at all—were obliged to receive 
or steal their subsistence from the hand of the rich; 
and from that began to arise, according to the diverse 
characters of the rich and the poor, domination and 
servitude or violence and rapine. The rich, for their 
part, had scarcely known the pleasure of domination 
when they soon disdained all others, and using their 
old slaves to subdue new ones, they thought only of 
subjugating and enslaving their neighbors: like those 
famished wolves which, having once tasted human 
flesh, refuse all other food and thenceforth want only 
to devour men. 

Thus, as the most powerful or most miserable made 
of their force or their needs a sort of right to the goods 
of others, equivalent according to them to the right of 
property, the destruction of equality was followed by 
the most frightful disorder; thus the usurpations of 
the rich, the brigandage of the poor, the unbridled 
passions of all, stifling natural pity and the as yet weak 
voice of justice, made man avaricious, ambitious, and 
evil. Between the right of the stronger and the right of 
the first occupant there arose a perpetual conflict which 
ended only in fights and murders ( q ). Nascent society 
gave way to the most horrible state of war: the human 
race, debased and desolated, no longer able to turn 
back or renounce the unhappy acquisitions it had made, 
and working only toward its shame by abusing the 
faculties that honor it' brought itself to the brink of 
its ruin. 


Attonitus novitate mali, divesque, miserque, 

Effugcre optat opes, et quae modo voverat, odit . 41 

It is not possible that men should not at last have 
reflected upon such a miserable situation and upon 
the calamities overwhelming them. The rich above 
all must have soon felt how disadvantageous to them 
was a perpetual war in which they alone paid all the 
costs, and in which the risk of life was common to all 
while the risk of goods was theirs alone. Moreover, 
whatever pretext they might give for their usurpations, 
they were well aware that these were established only 
on a precarious and abusive right, and that having 
been acquired only by force, force could take them 
away without their having grounds for complaint. Even 
those enriched by industry alone could hardly base 
their property upon better titles. In vain might they say: 
But I built this wall; I earned this field by my labor. 
Who gave you its dimensions, they might be answered, 
and by virtue of what do you presume to be paid at 
our expense for work we did not impose on you? Do you 
not know that a multitude of your brethren die or 
suffer from need of what you have in excess, and that 
you needed express and unanimous consent of the 
human race to appropriate for yourself anything from 
common subsistence that exceeded your own? Destitute 
of valid reasons to justify himself and of sufficient 
forces to defend himself; easily crushing an individual, 
but himself crushed by groups of bandits; alone against 
all, and unable because of mutual jealousies to unite 
with his equals against enemies united by the common 
hope of plunder, the rich, pressed by necessity, finally 
conceived the most deliberate project that ever entered 


the human mind. It was to use in his favor the very 
forces of those who attacked him, to make his de¬ 
fenders out of his adversaries, inspire them with other 
maxims, and give them other institutions which were 
as favorable to him as natural right was adverse. 

To this end, after having shown his neighbors the 
horror of a situation that made them all take up arms 
against one another, that made their possessions as bur¬ 
densome as their needs, and in which no one found 
security in either poverty or wealth, he easily invented 
specious reasons to lead them to his goal. "Let us 
unite,” he says to them, "to protect the weak from op¬ 
pression, restrain the ambitious, and secure for every¬ 
one the possession of what belongs to him. Let us insti¬ 
tute regulations of justice and peace to which all are 
obliged to conform, which make an exception of no 
one, and which compensate in some way for the caprices 
of fortune by equally subjecting the powerful and the 
weak to mutual duties. In a word, instead of turning 
our forces against ourselves, let us gather them into one 
supreme power which governs us according to wise 
laws, protects and defends all the members of the as¬ 
sociation, repulses common enemies, and maintains 
us in an eternal concord.” 

Far less than the equivalent of this discourse was 
necessary to win over crude, easily seduced men, who 
in addition had too many disputes to straighten out 
among themselves to be able to do without arbiters, 
and too much avarice and ambition to be able to do 
without masters for long. All ran to meet their chains 
thinking they secured their freedom, for although they 
had enough reason to feel the advantages of a political 
establishment, they did not have enough experience to 


forsee its dangers. Those most capable of anticipating 
the abuses were precisely those who counted on profit¬ 
ing from them; and even the wise saw the necessity 
of resolving to sacrifice one part of their freedom for 
the preservation of the other, just as a wounded man 
has his arm cut off to save the rest of his body. 

Such was, or must have been, the origin of society 
and laws, which gave new fetters to the weak and new 
forces to the rich (r), destroyed natural freedom for 
all time, established forever the law of property and 
inequality, changed a clever usurpation into an irrevoc¬ 
able right, and for the profit of a few ambitious men 
henceforth subjected the whole human race to work, 
servitude, and misery. It is easily seen how the establish¬ 
ment of a single society made that of all the others in¬ 
dispensable, and how, to stand up to the united forces, 
it was necessary to unite in turn. Societies, multiplying 
or spreading rapidly, soon covered the entire surface of 
the earth; and it was no longer possible to find a single 
corner in the universe where one could free oneself 
from the yoke and withdraw one's head from the sword, 
often ill-guided, that every man saw perpetually hang¬ 
ing over his head. Civil right having thus become the 
common rule of citizens, the law of nature no longer 
operated except between the various societies, where, 
under the name law of nations, it was tempered by some 
tacit conventions in order to make intercourse possible 
and to take the place of natural commiseration which, 
losing between one society and another nearly all the 
force it had between one man and another, no longer 
dwells in any but a few great cosmopolitan souls, who 
surmount the imaginary barriers that separate peoples 
and who, following the example of the sovereign Being 


who created them, include the whole human race in 
their benevolence . 42 

The bodies politic, thus remaining in the state of 
nature with relation to each other, soon experienced 
the inconveniences that had forced individuals to leave 
it; and among these great bodies that state became 
even more fatal than it had previously been among the 
individuals of whom they were composed. Hence arose 
the national wars, battles, murders, and reprisals which 
make nature tremble and shock reason, and all those 
horrible prejudices which rank the honor of shedding 
human blood among the virtues. The most decent men 
learned to consider it one of their duties to murder 
their fellow-men; at length men were seen to massacre 
each other by the thousands without knowing why; 
more murders were committed on a single day of fight¬ 
ing and more horrors in the capture of a single city than 
were committed in the state of nature during whole cen¬ 
turies over the entire face of the earth. Such are the 
first effects one glimpses of the division of the human 
race into different societies. Let us return to their in¬ 

I know that many have attributed other origins to 
political societies, such as conquests by the more power¬ 
ful, or union of the weak; and the choice among these 
causes is indifferent to what I want to establish. How¬ 
ever, the one I have just presented appears to me the 
most natural for the following reasons. 1. In the first 
case, the right of conquest, as it is not a right, could not 
have founded any other, since the conqueror and the 
conquered peoples always remain toward each other 
in a state of war, unless the nation, given back its com¬ 
plete freedom, should voluntarily choose its conqueror 


as its chief. Until then, whatever capitulations may 
have been made, as they have been founded only upon 
violence and are consequently null by that very fact, 
following this hypothesis there can be neither true so¬ 
ciety nor body politic, nor any other law than that of 
the stronger. 2. These words strong and weak are 
equivocal in the second case; for, in the interval be¬ 
tween the establishment of the right of property or 
of the first occupant and that of political governments, 
the meaning of these terms is better expressed by the 
terms poor and rich, since before the laws a man did 
not, in fact, have any other means of subjecting his 
equals than by attacking their goods or by giving them 
some of his. 3. The poor having nothing to lose except 
their freedom, it would have been great folly for them 
to give away voluntarily the sole good remaining to 
them, gaining nothing in the exchange; on the contrary, 
the rich being so to speak vulnerable in every' part of 
their goods, it was much easier to harm them; they con¬ 
sequently had more precautions to take in order to 
protect themselves from harm; and finally it is reason¬ 
able to believe that a thing was invented by those to 
whom it is useful rather than by those whom it wrongs. 

Nascent government did not have a constant and 
regular form. The lack of philosophy and experience 
allowed only present inconveniences to be perceived, 
and men thought of remedying others only as they pre¬ 
sented themselves. Despite all the labors of the wisest 
legislators, the political state remained ever imperfect 
because it was almost the work of chance, and be¬ 
cause, as it began badly, time in discovering faults and 
suggesting remedies could never repair the vices of the 
constitution. People incessantly mended, whereas it 


would have been necessary to begin by clearing the area 
and setting aside all the old materials, as Lycurgus did 
in Sparta, in order to raise a good edifice afterward. At 
first society consisted only of some general conventions 
which all individuals pledged to observe, and regarding 
which the community became the guarantor for each 
individual. Experience had to show how weak such a 
constitution was, and how easy it was for lawbreakers to 
avoid conviction or punishment for faults of which the 
public alone was to be witness and judge; the law had to 
be evaded in a thousand ways; inconveniences and dis¬ 
orders had to multiply continually in order that men 
finally thought of confiding to private persons the 
dangerous trust of public authority, and committed to 
magistrates the care of enforcing obedience to the de¬ 
liberations of the people. For to say that the chiefs 
were chosen before the confederation was created and 
that the ministers of laws existed before the laws them¬ 
selves is a supposition that does not permit of serious 
debate. 43 

It would be no more reasonable to believe that at 
first peoples threw themselves into the arms of an ab¬ 
solute master without conditions and for all time, and 
that the first means of providing for the common se¬ 
curity imagined by proud and unconquered men was 
to rush into slavery. In fact, why did they give them¬ 
selves superiors if not to defend themselves against op¬ 
pression, and to protect their goods, their freedoms, 
and their lives, which are, so to speak, the constituent 
elements of their being? Now in relations between one 
man and another, as the worst that can happen to one 
is to see himself at the discretion of the other, would 
it not have been contrary to good sense to begin by 

164 /second discourse 

surrendering into the hands of a chief the only things 
they needed his help to preserve? What equivalent 
could he have offered them for the concession of so fine 
a right? And had he dared to require it under pretext 
of defending them, would lie not promptly have re¬ 
ceived the answer of the allegory: What more will the 
enemy do to us? It is therefore incontestable, and it is 
the fundamental maxim of all political right, that peo¬ 
ples have given themselves chiefs to defend their free¬ 
dom and not to enslave themselves. If we have a prince, 
said Pliny to Trajan, it is so that he may preserve us 
from having a master . 44 

Our politicians make the same sophisms about love 
of freedom that our philosophers have made about the 
state of nature; by the things they see they make judg¬ 
ments about very different things which they have not 
seen. And they attribute to men a natural inclination 
to servitude due to the patience with which those who 
are before their eyes bear their servitude, without 
thinking that it is the same for freedom as for innocence 
and virtue—their value is felt only as long as one enjoys 
them oneself, and the taste for them is lost as soon as 
one has lost them. I know the delights of your country, 
said Brasidas to a satrap who compared the life of 
Sparta to that of Persepolis; but you cannot know the 
pleasures of mine. 45 

As an untamed steed bristles his mane, paws the 
earth with his hoof, and breaks away impetuously at 
the very' approach of the bit, whereas a trained horse 
patiently endures whip and spur, barbarous man does 
not bend his head for the yoke that civilized man wears 
without a murmur, and he prefers the most turbulent 
freedom to tranquil subjection. Therefore it is not by 


the degradation of enslaved peoples that man’s natural 
dispositions for or against servitude must be judged, 
but by the marvels done by all free peoples to guard 
themselves from oppression. I know that the former do 
nothing but boast incessantly of the peace and repose 
they enjoy in their chains, and that miserrimam servi- 
tutem pacem appellant . 4G But when I see the others 
sacrifice pleasures, repose, wealth, power, and life itself 
for the preservation of this sole good which is so dis¬ 
dained by those who have lost it; when I see animals 
born free and despising captivity break their heads 
against the bars of their prison; when I see multitudes 
of entirely naked savages scorn European voluptuous¬ 
ness and endure hunger, fire, the sword, and death to 
preserve only their independence, I feel that it does 
not behoove slaves to reason about freedom. 

Regarding paternal authority, from which many have 
derived absolute government and all society, without 
having recourse to the contrary proofs of Locke and 
Sidney, 47 it suffices to note that nothing in the world 
is farther from the ferocious spirit of despotism than 
the gentleness of that authority which looks more to 
the advantage of the one who obeys than to the utility 
of the one who commands; that by the law of nature, 
the father is master of the child only as long as his help 
is necessary for him; that beyond this stage they be¬ 
come equals, and the son, perfectly independent of the 
father, then owes him only respect and not obedience; 
for gratitude is certainly a duty which must be rendered, 
but not a right which one can require. Instead of saying 
that civil society is derived from paternal power, it 
should be said on the contrary that it is from civil 
society that this power draws its principle force. An 


individual was not recognized as the father of many 
until they remained assembled around him. The goods 
of the father, of which he is truly the master, are the 
bonds which keep his children dependent on him, and 
he can give them a share of his inheritance only in pro¬ 
portion as they shall have properly deserved it from 
him by continual deference to his wishes. Now subjects, 
far from having some similar favor to expect from their 
despot, since they and all they possess belong to him 
as personal belongings—or at least he claims this to be 
the case—are reduced to receiving as a favor what 
he leaves them of their own goods. He renders justice 
when lie plunders them; he renders grace when he lets 
them live. 

Continuing thus to test the facts by right, one would 
find no more solidity than truth in the voluntary estab¬ 
lishment of tyranny; and it would be difficult to show 
the validity of a contract that would obligate only 
one of the parties, where all would be given to one 
side and nothing to the other, and that would only 
damage the one who binds himself. This odious sys¬ 
tem is very far from being, even today, that of wise 
and good monarchs, and especially of the Kings of 
France, as may be seen in various parts of their edicts 
and particularly in the following passage of a famous 
writing, published in 1667 in the name and by orders 
of Louis XIV: Let it not be said therefore that the 
sovereign is not subject to the laws of his State, since 
the contrary proposition is a truth of the law of nations, 
which flattery has sometimes attacked, but which good 
princes have always defended as a tutelary t divinity of 
their States. How much more legitimate is it to say, 
with wise Plato, that the perfect felicity of a kingdom 


is that a prince be obeyed by his subjects, that the 
prince obey the law, and that the law be right and al¬ 
ways directed to the public good . 48 I shall not stop to 
inquire whether, freedom being the most noble of man’s 
faculties, it is not degrading one’s nature, putting 
oneself on the level of beasts enslaved by instinct, even 
offending the author of one’s being, to renounce with¬ 
out reservation the most precious of all his gifts and 
subject ourselves to committing all the crimes he for¬ 
bids us in order to please a ferocious or insane master; 
nor whether this sublime workman must be more irri¬ 
tated to see his finest work destroyed than to see it 
dishonored. I shall neglect, if one wishes, the authority 
of Barbeyrac, who clearly declares, following Locke, 
that no one can sell his freedom to the point of sub¬ 
jecting himself to an arbitrary power which treats him 
according to its fancy: Because, he adds, that would be 
selling one’s own life, of which one is not the master 49 
I shall only ask by what right those who have not been 
afraid of so greatly debasing themselves have been able 
to subject their posterity to the same ignominy, and to 
renounce for it goods which do not depend on their 
liberality and without which life itself is burdensome 
to all who are worthy of it. 

Pufendorf says that just as one transfers his goods to 
another by conventions and contracts, one can also 
divest himself of his freedom in favor of someone 
else. 50 That, it seems to me, is very bad reasoning: for, 
first, the goods I alienate become something altogether 
foreign to me, the abuse of which is indifferent to me; 
but it matters to me that my freedom is not abused, 
and I cannot, without making myself guilty of the evil 
I shall be forced to do, risk becoming the instrument of 


crime. Moreover, as the right of property is only con¬ 
ventional and of human institution, ever)' man can 
dispose at will of what he possesses. But it is not the 
same for the essential gifts of nature, such as life and 
freedom, which everyone is permitted to enjoy and of 
which it is at least doubtful that one has the right to 
divest himself: by giving up the one, one degrades his 
being, by giving up the other one destroys it insofar 
as he can; and as no temporal goods can compensate 
for the one or the other, it would offend both nature 
and reason to renounce them whatever the price. But 
if one could alienate his freedom like his goods, there 
would be a very great difference for children, who enjoy 
the father’s goods only by transmission of his right; 
whereas since freedom is a gift they receive from nature 
by being men, their parents did not have any right to 
divest them of it. So that just as to establish slavery 
violence had to be done to nature, nature had to be 
changed to perpetuate this right; and the jurists, who 
have gravely pronounced that the child of a slave would 
be born a slave, have decided in other terms that a man 
would not be born a man. 

It therefore appears certain to me not only that 
governments did not begin by arbitrary' power, which 
is only their corruption and extreme limit, and which 
finallv brings them back to the sole law of the strongest 
for which they were originally the remedy; but also 
that even if they had begun thus, this power, being 
by its nature illegitimate, could not have served as a 
foundation for the rights of society, nor consequently 
for instituted inequality. 

Without entering at present into the researches yet 
to be undertaken concerning the nature of the funda- 


mental compact of all government, I limit myself, in 
following common opinion, to consider here the estab¬ 
lishment of the body politic as a true contract between 
the people and the chiefs it chooses for itself: a contract 
by which the two parties obligate themselves to observe 
laws that are stipulated in it and that form the bonds 
of their union. 51 The people having, on the subject of 
social relations, united all their wills into a single one, 
all the articles on which this will is explicit become so 
many fundamental laws obligating all members of the 
State without exception, and one of these laws regulates 
the choice and power of magistrates charged with 
watching over the execution of the others. This power 
extends to everything that can maintain the constitu¬ 
tion, without going so far as to change it. To it are 
joined honors which make the laws and their ministers 
respectable and, for the latter personally, prerogatives 
which compensate them for the difficult labors that 
good administration requires. The magistrate, for his 
part, obligates himself to use the power confided in 
him only according to the intention of the constituents, 
to maintain each one in the peaceable enjoyment of 
what belongs to him, and to prefer on all occasions 
the public utility to his own interest. 

Before experience had shown or knowledge of the 
human heart had made men foresee the inevitable 
abuses of such a constitution, it must have appeared 
all the better because those who were charged with 
watching over its preservation were themselves the 
most interested in it. For the magistracy and its rights 
being established only upon the fundamental laws, 
should they be destroyed the magistrates would immedi¬ 
ately cease to be legitimate, the people would no longer 


be bound to obey them; and as it would not have been 
the magistrate but the law which had constituted the 
essence of the State, everyone would return by right to 
his natural freedom/’ 2 

With the slightest attentive reflection, this would be 
confirmed bv additional reasons, and by the nature of 
the contract one would see that it could not be irrevo¬ 
cable: for if there were no superior power which could 
guarantee the fidelity of the contracting parties nor 
force them to fulfill their reciprocal engagements, the 
parties would remain sole judges of their own case, and 
each of them would always have the right to renounce 
the contract as soon as he should find that the other 
breaks its conditions or as soon as the conditions should 
cease to suit him. It is on this principle that it seems the 
right to abdicate can be founded. Now to consider, 
as we are doing, only what is of human institution, if 
the magistrate who has all the power in his hands and 
who appropriates for himself all the advantages of the 
contract, nonetheless had the right to renounce his 
authority, there is all the more reason that the people, 
who pay for all the faults of the chiefs, ought to have 
the right to renounce their dependence. But the fright¬ 
ful dissensions, the infinite disorders that this dangerous 
power would necessarily entail demonstrate more than 
anything else how much human governments needed a 
basis more solid than reason alone, and how necessary 
it was for public repose that divine will intervened to 
give sovereign authority a sacred and inviolable char¬ 
acter which took from the subjects the fatal right of 
disposing of it. If religion had accomplished only this 
good for men, it would be enough to oblige them all 
to cherish and adopt it, even with its abuses, since it 


spares even more blood than fanaticism causes to be 
shed. 53 But let us follow the thread of our hypothesis. 

The various forms of governments derive their origin 
from the greater or lesser differences to be found among 
individuals at the moment of institution. Was one man 
eminent in power, virtue, wealth, or credit, he alone 
was elected magistrate, and the State became monar¬ 
chical. If several approximately equal among themselves 
prevailed over all others, they were elected jointly and 
there was an aristocracy. Those whose fortune or talents 
were less disproportionate, and who were the least re¬ 
moved from the state of nature, kept the supreme 
administration in common and formed a democracy. 
Time verified which of these forms was the most advan¬ 
tageous for men. Some remained solely subject to laws, 
the others soon obeyed masters. The citizens wanted 
to keep their freedom; the subjects thought only of tak¬ 
ing it away from their neighbors, since it was unbearable 
that others should enjoy a good which they themselves 
no longer enjoyed. In a word, on one side were wealth 
and conquests, and on the other happiness and virtue. 

In these various governments, all magistracies were at 
first elective; and when wealth did not prevail, prefer¬ 
ence was accorded to merit, which gives a natural 
ascendancy, and to age, which gives experience in affairs 
and composure in deliberations. The elders of the 
Hebrews, the gerontes of Sparta, the senate of Rome, 
and the very etymology of our word seigneur 54 show 
how much old age was respected in former times. The 
more elections fell to men advanced in age, the more 
frequent elections became and the more their difficulties 
were felt. Intrigues were introduced, factions were 
formed, parties grew bitter, civil wars broke out; finally 


the blood of citizens was sacrificed to the so-called hap¬ 
piness of the State, and men were at the point of falling 
back into the anarchy of earlier times. The ambition of 
leading personages profited from these circumstances to 
perpetuate their posts in their families; the people, al¬ 
ready accustomed to dependence, repose, and the con¬ 
veniences of life, and already incapable of breaking 
their chains, consented to let their servitude increase in 
order to assure their tranquillity. Tlius the chiefs, having 
become hereditary, grew accustomed to consider their 
magistracy as a family possession, to regard themselves 
as proprietors of the State, of which they were at first 
only the officers, to call their fellow citizens their slaves, 
count them like cattle in the number of things that 
belonged to them, and call themselves equals of the 
gods and kings of kings. 

If we follow the progress of inequality in these differ¬ 
ent revolutions, we shall find that the establishment of 
the law and of the right of property was the first stage, 
the institution of the magistracy the second, and the 
third and last was the changing of legitimate power into 
arbitrary power. So that the status of rich and poor was 
authorized by the first epoch, that of powerful and weak 
by the second, and by the third that of master and 
slave, which is the last degree of inequality and the 
limit to which all the others finally lead, until new revo¬ 
lutions dissolve the government altogether or bring 
it closer to its legitimate institution. 

To understand the necessity of this progress, one must 
consider less the motives for the establishment of the 
body politic than the form it takes in its execution and 
the inconveniences it brings along with it: for the 
vices that make social institutions necessary arc the same 


ones that make their abuse inevitable. And as—except¬ 
ing Sparta alone, where the law attended principally to 
the education of children and where Lycurgus estab¬ 
lished morals which almost allowed him to dispense 
with adding law's—laws, in general less strong than 
passions, contain men without changing them, it would 
be easy to prove that any government that, without be¬ 
ing corrupted or altered, always worked exactly accord¬ 
ing to the ends of its institution, would have been 
instituted unnecessarily, and that a country where no 
one eluded the lavvs and abused the magistracy would 
need neither magistracy nor laws. 

Political distinctions necessarily bring about civil 
distinctions. The growing inequality between the people 
and its chiefs soon makes itself felt among individuals, 
where it is modified in a thousand ways according to 
passions, talents, and events. The magistrate cannot 
usurp illegitimate power without creating some proteges 
to whom he is forced to yield some part of it. Besides, 
citizens let themselves be oppressed only insofar as 
they are carried away by blind ambition; and looking 
more below than above them, domination becomes 
dearer to them than independence, and they consent to 
wear chains in order to give them to others in turn. 55 It 
is very difficult to reduce to obedience one who does not 
seek command; and the most adroit politician would 
never succeed in subjecting men who wanted only to 
be free. But inequality spreads without difficulty among 
ambitious and cowardly souls, always ready to run the 
risks of fortune, and to dominate or serve almost indiffer¬ 
ently, according to whether it becomes favorable or 
adverse to them. Thus there must have come a time 
when the eyes of the people were so bewitched that 


their leaders had only to say to the smallest of men: Be 
great, you and all your line; immediately he appeared 
great to everyone as well as in his own eyes, and his 
descendants were exalted even more in proportion to 
their distance from him. The more remote and un¬ 
certain the cause, the more the effect augmented; the 
more idlers one could count in a family, the more 
illustrious it became. 

If this w'ere the place to go into details, I would 
easily explain how, even without the involvement of 
government, inequality of credit and authority becomes 
inevitable between individuals (s) as soon as, united in 
the same society, they are forced to make comparisons 
between themselves and to take into account differences 
they find in the continual use they have to make of one 
another. These differences are of several kinds; but in 
general wealth, nobility or rank, power, and personal 
merit being the principal distinctions by which one is 
measured in society, I would prove that the agreement 
or conflict of these various forces is the surest indication 
of a well- or ill-constituted state. I would show that of 
these four types of inequality, as personal qualities are 
the origin of all the others, wealth is the last to which 
they are reduced in the end because, being the most 
immediately useful to well-being and the easiest to com¬ 
municate, it is easily used to buy all the rest: an ob¬ 
servation which can permit a rather exact judgment of 
the extent to which each people is removed from its 
primitive institution, and of the distance it has traveled 
toward the extreme limit of coriuption. I would point 
out how much that universal desire for reputation, 
honors, and preferences, which devours us all, trains and 
compares talents and strengths; how much it stimulates 


and multiplies passions; and making all men competi¬ 
tors, rivals, or rather enemies, how many reverses, suc¬ 
cesses, and catastrophes of all kinds it causes daily by 
making so many contenders race the same course. I 
would show that to this ardor to be talked about, to this 
furor to distinguish oneself, which nearly always keeps 
us outside of ourselves, we owe what is best and worst 
among men, our virtues and our vices, our sciences and 
our errors, our conquerors and our philosophers—that 
is to say, a multitude of bad things as against a small 
number of good ones. Finally, I would prove that if one 
sees a handful of powerful and rich men at the height 
of grandeur and fortune, while the crowd grovels in ob¬ 
scurity and misery, it is because the former prize the 
things they enjoy only insofar as the others are deprived 
of them; and because, without changing their status, 
they would cease to be happy if the people ceased to be 

But these details alone would be the subject matter 
of a considerable work in which one would weigh the 
advantages and inconveniences of all governments rela¬ 
tive to the rights of the state of nature, and where 
one would unmask all the different faces behind which 
inequality has appeared until the present and may 
appear in future centuries, according to the nature of 
these governments and the revolutions time will neces¬ 
sarily bring about in them. One would see the multitude 
oppressed within as a consequence of the very pre¬ 
cautions it had taken against that which menaced it 
from without; one would see oppression grow contin¬ 
ually, without the oppressed ever being able to know 
what its limit would be, or what legitimate means 
would be left them to stop it; one would see the rights 

i 76/ second discourse 

of citizens and national freedoms die out little by little, 
and the protests of the weak treated as seditious mur¬ 
murs; one would see politics limit to a mercenary 
portion of the people the honor of defending the com¬ 
mon cause; from that one would see arise the necessity 
of taxes, the discouraged farmer abandoning his field, 
even during peacetime, and leaving his plough to 
buckle on the sword; one would see emerge the fatal 
and bizarre rules of the point of honor; one would see 
the defenders of the country become, sooner or later, its 
enemies, incessantly holding the dagger over their 
fellow-citizens, and there would come a time when one 
would hear them say to the oppressor of their country: 

Pcctore si fratris gladium juguloque parentis 

Condcre me jubcas, gravidaeque in viscera partu 

Conjugis, invita peragam tamen omnia dextra. 56 

From the extreme inequality of conditions and for¬ 
tunes, from the diversity of passions and talents, from 
useless arts, from pernicious arts, from frivolous sciences 
would come scores of prejudices equally contrary to 
reason, happiness, and virtue. One would sec chiefs 
foment all that can weaken assembled men by disunit¬ 
ing them; all that can give society an air of apparent con¬ 
cord while spreading a seed of real division; all that can 
inspire defiance and mutual hatred in different orders 
through the opposition of their rights and interests, and 
consequently fortify the power that contains them all. 

It is from the bosom of this disorder and these revo¬ 
lutions that despotism, by degrees raising its hideous 
head and devouring all it had seen to lie good and 
healthy in all parts of the State, would finally succeed 
in trampling underfoot the laws and the people, and in 


establishing itself upon the ruins of the Republic. The 
times that would precede this last change would be 
times of troubles and calamities, but in the end every¬ 
thing would be engulfed by the monster, and peoples 
would no longer have chiefs or laws but only tyrants. 
From that moment also morals and virtue would cease 
to be in question; for wherever despotism reigns, cui ex 
honesto nulla est spes 57 , it tolerates no other master. As 
soon as it speaks, there is neither probity nor duty to 
consult, and the blindest obedience is the sole virtue 
which remains for slaves. 

Here is the ultimate stage of inequality, and the 
extreme point which closes the circle and touches the 
point from which we started. Here all individuals be¬ 
come equals again because they are nothing; and sub¬ 
jects no longer having any law except the will of the 
master, nor the master any other rule except his pas¬ 
sions, the notions of good and the principles of justice 
vanish once again. Here everything is brought back to 
the sole law of the stronger, and consequently to a new 
state of nature different from the one with which we 
began, in that the one was the state of nature in its 
purity, and this last is the fruit of an excess of corrup¬ 
tion. Besides, there is so little difference between these 
two states, and the contract of government is so com¬ 
pletely dissolved by despotism, that the despot is master 
only as long as he is the strongest, and as soon as he 
can be driven out, he cannot protest against violence. 
The uprising that ends by strangling or dethroning a 
sultan is as lawful an act as those by which he disposed, 
the day before, of the lives and goods of his subjects. 
Force alone maintained him, force alone overthrows 
him. Everything thus occurs according to the natural 

178 /second discourse 

order; and whatever the outcome of these short and 
frequent revolutions rnay be, no one can complain of 
another’s injustice, but only of his own imprudence or 
his misfortune. 

In discovering and following thus the forgotten and 
lost routes that must have led man from the natural 
state to the civil state; in re-establishing, along with the 
intermediary positions I have just noted, those that 
the pressure of time has made me suppress or that 
imagination has not suggested to me, every attentive 
reader cannot fail to be struck by the immense space 
that separates these two states. It is in this slow suc¬ 
cession of things that he will see the solution to an 
infinite number of problems of ethics and politics which 
the philosophers cannot resolve. He will sense that, the 
human race of one age not being the human race of an¬ 
other, the reason Diogenes did not find a man was that 
he sought among his contemporaries the man of a time 
that no longer existed. Cato, he will say, perished with 
Rome and freedom because he was out of place in his 
century; and the greatest of men only astonished the 
world, which he would have governed five hundred 
years earlier. In a word, he will explain how the soul 
and human passions, altering imperceptibly, change 
their nature so to speak; why our needs and our pleas¬ 
ures change their objects in the long run; why, original 
man vanishing by degrees, society no longer offers to 
the eyes of the wise man anything except an assemblage 
of artificial men and factitious passions which arc the 
work of all these new relations and have no true founda¬ 
tion in nature. What reflection teaches 11s on this sub¬ 
ject, observation confirms perfectly: savage man and 
civilized man differ so much in the bottom of their 


hearts and inclinations that what constitutes the supreme 
happiness of one would reduce the other to despair. 
The former breathes only repose and freedom; he wants 
only to live and remain idle; and even the perfect 
quietude of the Stoic does not approach his profound 
indifference for all other objects. On the contrary, the 
citizen, always active, sweats, agitates himself, torments 
himself incessantly in order to seek still more laborious 
occupations; he works to death, he even rushes to it in 
order to get in condition to live, or renounces life in 
order to acquire immortality. He pays court to the great 
whom he hates, and to the rich whom he scorns. He 
spares nothing in order to obtain the honor of serving 
them; he proudly boasts of his baseness and their pro¬ 
tection; and proud of his slavery, he speaks with disdain 
of those who do not have the honor of sharing it. What 
a sight the difficult and envied labors of a European 
minister are for a Carib! How many cruel deaths would 
that indolent savage not prefer to the horror of such a 
life, which often is not even sweetened by the pleasure 
of doing good. But in order to see the goal of so many 
cares, the words power and reputation would have to 
have a meaning in his mind; he would have to learn 
that there is a kind of men who set some store by the 
consideration of the rest of the universe and who know 
how to be happy and content with themselves on the 
testimony of others rather than on their own. Such is, 
in fact, the true cause of all these differences: the 
savage lives within himself; the sociable man, always 
outside of himself, knows how to live only in the 
opinion of others; and it is, so to speak, from their 
judgment alone that he draws the sentiment of his own 
existence. It is not part of my subject to show how, 

i8o/second discourse 

from such a disposition, so much indifference for good 
and evil arises along with such fine discourses on ethics; 
how, everything being reduced to appearances, every¬ 
thing becomes factitious and deceptive: honor, friend¬ 
ship, virtue, and often even vices themselves, about 
which men finally discover the secret of boasting; how, 
in a word, always asking others what we are and never 
daring to question ourselves on this subject, in the 
midst of so much philosophy, humanity, politeness, 
and sublime maxims, we have only a deceitful and 
frivolous exterior, honor without virtue, reason without 
wisdom, and pleasure without happiness. It is sufficient 
for me to have proved that this is not the original state 
of man; and that it is the spirit of society alone, and 
the inequality it engenders, which thus change and 
alter all our natural inclinations. 

I have tried to set forth the origin and progress of 
inequality, the establishment and abuse of political 
societies, insofar as these things can be deduced from 
the nature of man by the light of reason alone, and in¬ 
dependently of the sacred dogmas which give to sov¬ 
ereign authority the sanction of divine right. It follows 
from this exposition that inequality, being almost null 
in the state of nature, draws its force and growth from 
the development of our faculties and the progress of 
the human mind, and finally becomes stable and legiti¬ 
mate by the establishment of property and laws. It 
follows, further, that moral inequality, authorized by 
positive right alone, is contrary to natural right when¬ 
ever it is not combined in the same proportion with 
physical inequality: a distinction which sufficiently de¬ 
termines what one ought to think in this regard of the 
sort of inequality that reigns among all civilized people; 


since it is manifestly against the law of nature, in what¬ 
ever manner it is defined, that a child command 
an old man, an imbecile lead a wise man, and a handful 
of men be glutted with superfluities while the starving 
multitude lacks necessities. 58 

Rousseau’s Notes 

Page 79 (a) Herodotus relates that after the murder 
of the false Smcrdis, the seven liberators of Persia being 
assembled to deliberate upon the form of government 
they would give the State, Otanes was strongly in favor 
of a Republic: an opinion all the more extraordinary 
in the mouth of a satrap as, besides the claim he could 
have to the empire, grandees fear more than death a 
sort of government that forces them to respect men. 
Otanes, as may easily be believed, was not heeded; and 
seeing that they were going to proceed to the election of 
a monarch, he, who wanted neither to obey nor com¬ 
mand, voluntarily yielded his right to the crown to the 
other competitors, asking as his only compensation that 
he and his posterity be free and independent. This was 
granted him. 59 If Herodotus did not inform us of the 
restriction that was placed on this privilege, it would 
be necessary to suppose it; otherwise Otanes, not 
recognizing any sort of law and being accountable to 
no one, would have been all-powerful in the State and 
more powerful than the king himself. 00 But there was 
hardly any likelihood that a man capable of contenting 
himself with such a privilege, in a case like that, was 
capable of abusing it. In fact, it cannot be seen that 
this right ever caused the least trouble in the kingdom, 
either by wise Otanes or by any of his descendants. 61 

Page 91 (h) From the outset I rely with confidence 
upon one of those authorities that arc respectable for 
philosophers because they come from a solid and sub¬ 
lime reason, which philosophers alone know how to 
find and appreciate. 


Rousseau’s NOTEs/183 

“Whatever interest we may have to know ourselves, 
I am not sure whether we do not know better every¬ 
thing that is not ourselves. Provided by nature with 
organs destined uniquely for our preservation, we use 
them only to receive foreign impressions, we seek only 
to extend beyond ourselves, and exist outside ourselves. 
Too busy multiplying the functions of our senses and 
augmenting the external range of our being, we rarely 
make use of that internal sense which reduces us to our 
true dimensions, and which separates from us all that 
is not part of us. However, it is this sense we must use 
if we wish to know ourselves; it is the only one by 
which we can judge ourselves. But how can this sense 
be made active and given its full range? How can we 
rid our soul, in which it resides, of all the illusions of 
our mind? We have lost the habit of using it, it has 
remained without exercise in the midst of the tumult 
of our bodily sensations, it has been dried out by the 
fire of our passions; heart, mind, senses, everything has 
worked against it.” hist, nat., T. 4, p. 151, de la Nat. 
de l’homme . G2 

Page 104 (c) The changes that a long habit of walk¬ 
ing on two feet could have produced in the conforma¬ 
tion of man, the relationships still noted between his 
arms and the forelegs of quadrupeds, and the induction 
drawn from their way of walking, have given rise to 
doubts about the way that must have been most natural 
for us. All children begin by walking on all fours, and 
need our example and our lessons to learn to stand up. 
There are even savage nations, such as the Hottentots, 
who, greatly neglecting their children, let them walk on 
their hands for so long that they then have great 
difficulty making them straighten up; the children of 
the Caribs of the Antilles do the same thing. There are 


various examples of quadruped men; and among others 
I could cite that of the child who was found in 1344 
near Hesse, where he had been raised by wolves, and 
who said afterward at the court of Prince Henry that 
if it had been up to him, he would have preferred to 
return to them than to live among men. He had so 
thoroughly adopted the habit of walking like those 
animals that it was necessary' to attach pieces of wood 
to him that forced him to stand up and keep his balance 
on two feet. The same was true of the child who was 
found in 1694 in the forests of Lithuania, and who lived 
among bears. He gave no sign of reason, says M. de 
Condillac, walked on his hands and feet, had no lan¬ 
guage, and formed sounds having no resemblance what¬ 
ever to those of a man. 03 The little savage of Hanover, 
who was taken to the court of England some years 
ago, had all the trouble in the world to make himself 
walk on two feet; and in 1719 two other savages, found 
in the Pyrenees, ran through the mountains in the 
manner of quadrupeds. As for the objection one could 
make that this deprives man of the use of his hands, 
from which we derive so many advantages, besides the 
example of monkeys, which shows that the hand can 
very well be used in both ways, it would prove only 
that man can give his limbs a destination more useful 
than that of nature, and not that nature destined man 
to walk otherwise than it teaches him to do. 04 

But there are, it seems to me, far better reasons to 
state in affirming that man is a biped. First, even if it 
is shown that he could originally have been formed 
otherwise than we sec him and nonetheless finally be¬ 
come what lie is, this would not be enough to conclude 
that it happened thus; for, after having shown the pos- 

Rousseau’s NOTES/185 

sibility of these changes, it would still be necessary, 
before accepting them, at least to demonstrate their 
probability. Furthermore, if man’s arms apparently were 
able to serve as legs when needed, this is the only 
observation favorable to that system, against a great 
number of others which are opposed to it. The principal 
ones are that the manner in which man’s head is at¬ 
tached to his body, instead of directing his sight horizon¬ 
tally—as do all the other animals, and as he himself 
does when walking erect—would have kept him, walk¬ 
ing on all fours, with his eyes directly fastened on the 
ground, a situation but little favorable to the preser¬ 
vation of the individual; that the tail he lacks, and of 
which he has no need walking on two feet, is useful 
to quadrupeds, and none of them is deprived of one; 
that the breast of a woman, very well placed for a biped 
who holds her child in her arms, is so badly placed for 
a quadruped that none has it that way; that the rear 
quarters being of an excessive height in proportion to 
the forelegs—so that when walking on all fours we 
crawl on our knees—the whole would have been an 
animal ill proportioned and walking uncomfortably; 
that if he had set his foot down flat as well as the hand, 
he would have had one less articulation in the posterior 
leg than do other animals, namely the one that joins the 
canon bone to the tibia; and that setting down only 
the tip of the foot, as he doubtless would have been 
constrained to do, the tarsus—without speaking of the 
plurality of bones composing it—seems too large to 
take the place of the canon bone, and its articulations 
with the metatarsus and the tibia too close together to 
give the human leg, in this position, the same flexibility 
as those of quadrupeds. The example of children, as 

186/ second discourse 

it is taken from an age when natural forces are not as 
yet developed nor the limbs strengthened, proves noth¬ 
ing whatever; and 1 might as well say that dogs are 
not destined to walk because they only crawl several 
weeks after their birth. Particular facts also have little 
force against the universal practice of all men, even 
nations that, having had no communication with others, 
could not have imitated anything from them. A child 
abandoned in a forest before lie is able to walk, and 
nourished by some beast, will have followed the ex¬ 
ample of his nurse in training himself to walk like her; 
habit could have given him dexterity he did not have 
from nature; and as armless people succeed, by dint 
of training, in doing ever}’thing with their feet that we 
do with our hands, he will finally have succeeded in 
using his hands as feet. 

Page 105 ( d ) Should there be found among my 
readers a bad enough physical scientist to raise difficul¬ 
ties about the supposition of this natural fertility of the 
earth, I am going to answer him with the following 


“As plants draw much more substance for their nour¬ 
ishment from air and water than they draw from the 
earth, it happens that when they rot they return more 
to the earth than they took from it; besides, a forest re¬ 
tains the waters from rain by stopping vapors. 'Fbus, in 
woods that had been preserved for a long time without 
being touched, the layer of earth that senes for 
vegetation would augment considerably; but as animals 
give back less than they take from the earth, and as 
men consume enormous quantities of wood and plants 
for fire and other uses, it follows that the layer of 
vegetative earth in an inhabited country must always 

rousseau’s notes/ 187 

diminish and finally become like the terrain of Arabia 
Petraea, 65 and like that of so many other provinces of 
the East—which is in fact the region of most ancient 
habitation—where only salt and sand are found. For 
the fixed salt of plants and animals remains, while all 
the other parts are volatilized.” M. de Buffon, hist. 

NAT. 66 

To this one can add factual proof from the quantity 
of trees and plants of all kinds covering almost all the 
deserted islands discovered in recent centuries, and from 
what history teaches us about the immense forests that 
had to be felled all over the earth as it was populated 
or civilized. On these things I shall further make the 
following three remarks. First, if there is a kind of 
vegetation that can compensate for the loss of vegetable 
matter brought about by animals according to M. de 
Bulfon’s reasoning, it is above all woods, the tops and 
leaves of which collect and appropriate more water and 
vapors than other plants do. Second, destruction of the 
soil, that is to say, the loss of the substance suited to 
vegetation, must accelerate in proportion as the earth 
is more cultivated and as more industrious inhabitants 
consume in greater abundance its products of all kinds. 
My third and most important remark is that the fruits 
of trees furnish animals with more abundant food than 
other forms of vegetation can: an experiment I made 
myself, by comparing the products of two fields equal in 
size and quality, the one covered with chestnut trees 
and the other sown with wheat. 

Page 106 ( e ) Among the quadrupeds, the two most 
universal distinguishing characteristics of voracious 
species are derived from the shape of the teeth, and 
the conformation of the intestines. Animals that live 

188/ second discourse 

only on vegetation all have blunt teeth, like the horse, 
ox, sheep, hare; but voracious animals have pointed 
ones, like the cat, dog, wolf, fox. And as for the in¬ 
testines, the frugivorous ones have some, such as the 
colon, that are not found in voracious animals. It there¬ 
fore seems that man, having teeth and intestines like 
those of frugivorous animals, should naturally be placed 
in that class; and not only do anatomical observations 
confirm this opinion, but the great works of antiquity 
are also very favorable to it. “Dicaearchus,” 07 says Saint 
Jerome, “relates in his books on Greek antiquities that 
under the reign of Saturn, when the earth was still fer¬ 
tile by itself, no man ate flesh, but that all lived on 
fruits and vegetables which grew naturally.” (Lib. 2. 
Adv. Jovinian.) cs That opinion can also be confirmed 
by the reports of several modern travelers. Francois Cor¬ 
real, among others, testifies that most of the inhabitants 
of the Lucaves whom the Spanish transported to the 
islands of Cuba, Santo Domingo, and elsewhere, died 
from having eaten flesh. From this it may be seen that 
I neglect many favorable points I could exploit. For as 
prey is almost the unique subject of fighting among 
carnivorous animals, and as frugivorous ones live among 
themselves in continual peace, if the human race were 
of this latter genus it clearly would have had much 
greater case subsisting in the state of nature, and much 
less need and occasion to leave it. 

Page 107 (f) All knowledge that requires reflection, 
all knowledge acquired only by the linking of ideas and 
perfected only successively, seems to be altogether be¬ 
yond the reach of savage man for want of communica¬ 
tion with his fellow men—that is to say, for want of the 
instrument which is used for that communication and 



for want of the needs which make it necessary. His 
knowledge and his industry are limited to jumping, 
running, fighting, throwing a stone, scaling a tree. But 
if he knows only these things, in return he knows them 
much better than we, who do not have the same need 
of them as he does; and since they depend solely on 
bodily exercise and are not susceptible of any com¬ 
munication or progress from one individual to another, 
the first man could have been just as skillful at them 
as his last descendants. 

The reports of travelers are full of examples of the 
strength and vigor of men in barbarous and savage 
nations; they praise scarcely less their dexterity and 
nimbleness: and as eyes alone are needed to observe 
these things, nothing prevents our giving credence to 
what eye witnesses certify about them. 69 I draw some 
examples at random from the first books that come to 

“The Hottentots,” says Kolben, “understand fishing 
better than the Europeans of the Cape. They are equally 
skilled with net, hook, and barb, in coves as well as in 
rivers. They catch fish by hand no less skillfully. They 
are incomparably dextrous at swimming. Their manner 
of swimming has something surprising about it, which 
is altogether peculiar to them. They swim with their 
body upright and their hands stretched out of the water, 
so that they appear to be walking on land. In the 
greatest agitation of the sea, when the waves form so 
many mountains, they somehow dance on the crest of 
the waves, rising and falling like a piece of cork. 70 

“The Hottentots,” the same author says further, 
“have surprising dexterity at hunting, and the nimble¬ 
ness of their running surpasses the imagination.” He is 


amazed that they do not more often put their agility’ 
to bad use, which sometimes happens, however, as can 
be judged from the example he gives. “A Dutch sailor, 
disembarking at the Cape,” he says, “engaged a Hotten¬ 
tot to follow him to the city with a roll of tobacco 
weighing about twenty pounds. When they were both 
at some distance from the crew, the Hottentot asked the 
sailor if he knew how to run. Run? answered the Dutch¬ 
man; yes, very well. Let us see, replied the African; and 
fleeing with the tobacco, he disappeared almost im¬ 
mediately. The sailor, astounded by such marvelous 
speed, did not think of chasing him, and he never again 
saw either his tobacco or his porter. 

“They have such quick sight and such a sure hand 
that Europeans cannot come close to them. At a 
hundred paces they will hit a mark the size of a half¬ 
penny with a stone; and what is more astonishing, in¬ 
stead of fixing their eyes on the target, as we do, they 
make continuous movements and contortions. It seems 
that their stone is carried by an invisible hand.” 71 

Father du Tertrc says, concerning the savages of the 
Antilles, approximately the same things that have just 
been read concerning the Hottentots of the Cape of 
Good Hope. He praises above all their accuracy in 
shooting, with arrows, flying birds and swimming fish, 
which they then catch by diving. The savages of North 
America are no less famous for their strength and dex¬ 
terity, and here is an example that will permit us to 
judge that of the Indians of South America. 

In the year 1746, an Indian from Buenos Aires, hav¬ 
ing been condemned to the galleys at Cadiz, proposed 
to the governor that he redeem his freedom bv risking 
his life at a public festival. lie promised that by him- 

Rousseau’s notes/ 191 

self lie would attack the fiercest bull with no other 
weapon in hand than a rope; that he would bring it to 
the ground, seize it with his rope by whatever part 
they would indicate, saddle it, bridle it, mount it, and 
so mounted, fight two other bulls of the fiercest kind to 
be let out of the Torillo; and that he would put them 
all to death, one after another, at the instant they would 
command him to do so, and without help from anyone. 
This was granted him. The Indian kept his word, and 
succeeded in everything he had promised. On the way in 
which he did it and on all the detail of the fight, one 
can consult the first volume, in-12 0 , of Observations sur 
Vhistoire natarelle by M. Gautier, page 262, from 
which this fact is taken. 72 

Page 109 (g) “The length of the life of horses,” says 
M. de Buffon, “as in all other species of animals, is 
proportionate to the length of time of their growth. 
Man, who takes fourteen years to grow, can live six or 
seven times as long, that is to say ninety or one hundred 
years; the horse, whose growth is completed in four 
years, can live six or seven times as long, that is to say 
twenty-five or thirty years. The examples that could 
be contrary to this rule are so rare that they should not 
even be considered as an exception from which con¬ 
clusions can be drawn; and just as heavy horses reach 
their growth in less time than delicate horses, so they 
live less time, and are old from the age of fifteen.” 73 

Page 109 ( h ) I believe I see another difference be¬ 
tween carnivorous and frugivorous animals which is 
still more general than the one I remarked upon in 
note ( e ), since this one extends to birds. This difference 
consists in the number of young, which never exceeds 
two in each litter for the species that live only on 

192 /second discourse 

vegetables, and which ordinarily goes beyond this 
number for voracious animals. It is easv to know nature’s 
design in this regard by the number of teats, which is 
only two in each female of the first species, like the 
mare, cow, goat, doe, ewe, etc. and which is always six 
or eight in the other females, like the bitch, cat, wolf, 
tigress, etc. lire hen, goose, duck, which are all voracious 
birds, as are the eagle, sparrow-hawk, screech-owl, also 
lay and hatch a large number of eggs, which never hap¬ 
pens to the pigeon, turtle-dove, nor to birds that eat 
absolutely nothing except grain, which hardly ever lay 
and hatch more than two eggs at a time. The reason 
that can be given for this difference is that animals that 
live only on grasses and plants, remaining almost the 
entire day at pasture and being forced to spend much 
time nourishing themselves, could not be adequate to 
the nursing of several young; whereas voracious ones, 
having their meal almost in an instant, can more easily 
and more frequently return to their young and their 
hunting, and compensate for the dissipation of such a 
large quantity of milk. There would be many particular 
observations and reflections to make about all this, but 
this is not the place for them, and it is sufficient for me 
to have shown in this part the most general system of 
nature, a svstem which furnishes a new reason to with- 

7 j 

draw man from the class of carnivorous animals and to 
place him among the frugivorous species. 

Page 115 (i) A famous author calculating the goods 
and evils of human life, and comparing the two sums, 
found that the latter greatly surpassed the former, and 
that all things considered life was a rather poor present 
to man. I am not surprised by his conclusion; he drew 
all his reasons from the constitution of civil man. If lie 


rousseau’s NOTEs/193 

had gone back to natural man, it can be concluded that 
he would have found very different results; he would 
have perceived that man has hardly any evils other than 
those he has given himself, and that nature would have 
been justified. It is not without difficulty' that we have 
succeeded in making ourselves so unhappy. When, on 
the one hand, one considers the vast labors of men, 
so many sciences fathomed, so many arts invented, and 
so many forces employed, chasms filled, mountains 
razed, rocks broken, rivers made navigable, land cleared, 
lakes dug out, swamps drained, enormous buildings 
raised upon the earth, the sea covered with ships and 
sailors; and when, on the other hand, one searches with 
a little meditation for the true advantages that have 
resulted from all this for the happiness of the human 
species, one cannot fail to be struck by the astounding 
disproportion prevailing between these things, and to 
deplore man’s blindness, which, to feed his foolish pride 
and an indefinable vain admiration for himself, makes 
him run avidly after all the miseries of which he is 
susceptible, and which beneficent nature had taken care 
to keep from him. 74 

Men are wicked; sad and continual experience spares 
the need for proof. However, man is naturally good; I 
believe I have demonstrated it. What then can have 
depraved him to this extent, if not the changes that 
have befallen his constitution, the progress he has made, 
and the knowledge he has acquired? Let human society 
be as highly admired as one wants; it is nonetheless true 
that it necessarily brings men to hate each other in 
proportion to the conflict of their interests, to render 
each other apparent services and in fact do every imagin¬ 
able harm to one another. What is to be thought of 

194/second discourse 

intercourse in which the reason of each individual 
dictates to him maxims directly contrary to those that 
public reason preaches to the body of society, and in 
which each man finds his profit in the misfortune of 
others? There is perhaps no well-to-do man whose 
death is not secretly hoped for by avid heirs and often 
his own children; no ship at sea whose wreck would not 
be good news to some merchant; no firm that a debtor 
of bad faith would not wish to see burned along with 
all the papers it contains; no people that does not re¬ 
joice about the disasters of its neighbors. Thus do we 
find our advantage in the detriment of our fellow-men, 
and someone’s loss almost always creates another’s 
prosperity. But what is still more dangerous is that 
public calamities are awaited and hoped for by a multi¬ 
tude of individuals. Some want illnesses, others death, 
others war, others famine. I have seen atrocious men 
weep with sadness at the probability of a fertile year; 
and the great and deadly fire of London, which cost the 
life or goods of so many unfortunates, perhaps made the 
fortune of more than ten thousand people. I know' that 
Montaigne blames the Athenian Demades for having 
had a worker punished who, by selling coffins at a high 
price, gained a great deal from the death of citizens. 
But as the reason Montaigne advances is that everyone 
would have to be punished, it is evident that it con¬ 
firms my own. 75 Let us therefore perceive, through our 
frivolous demonstrations of good will, what goes on at 
the bottom of our hearts, and let us reflect on what the 
state of things must be where all men are forced to 
flatter and destroy one another, and where they arc born 
enemies by duty and swindlers by interest. If 1 am 
answered that society is so constituted that each man 

rousseau’s NOTEs/195 

gains by serving the others, I shall reply that this would 
be very well, if he did not gain still more by harming 
them. There is no profit, however legitimate, that is not 
surpassed by one that can be made illegitimately, and 
wrong done to one’s neighbor is always more lucrative 
than services. Therefore it is no longer a question of 
anything except finding ways to be assured of impunity; 
and it is for this that the powerful use all their strength 
and the weak all their ruses. 

Savage man, when he has eaten, is at peace with all 
nature, and the friend of all his fellow-men. If it is 
sometimes a question of disputing his meal, he never 
comes to blows without first having compared the 
difficulty of winning with that of finding his subsistence 
elsewhere; and as pride is not involved in the fight, it 
is ended by a few blows; the victor eats, the vanquished 
goes off to seek his fortune, and all is pacified. But for 
man in society these are altogether different affairs: it 
is first of all a question of providing for the necessary, 
and then for the superfluous; next come delights, then 
immense wealth, and then subjects, and then slaves; 
he does not have a moment of respite. What is most 
singular is that the less natural and urgent the needs, 
the more the passions augment, and, what is worse, the 
power to satisfy them; so that after long prosperity, 
after having swallowed up many treasures and desolated 
many men, my hero will end by ruining everything 
until he is the sole master of the universe. Such in 
brief is the moral picture, if not of human life, at 
least of the secret pretensions of the heart of every 
civilized man. 

Compare, without prejudices, the state of civil man 
with that of savage man, and seek if you can how many 

196 /second discourse 

new doors—other than his wickedness, his needs, and 
his miseries—the former has opened to suffering and 
death. If you consider the mental anguish that con¬ 
sumes us, the violent passions that exhaust and desolate 
us, the excessive labors with which the poor are over¬ 
burdened, the still more dangerous softness to which 
the rich abandon themselves, and which cause the 
former to die of their needs and the latter of their 
excesses; if you think of the monstrous mixtures of 
foods, their pernicious seasonings, corrupted food¬ 
stuffs, falsified drugs, the knavery of those who sell 
them, the errors of those who administer them, the 
poison of the containers in which they are prepared; if 
you pay attention to the epidemic illnesses engendered 
by the bad air among the multitudes of men gathered 
together, to the illnesses occasioned by the delicacy 
of our way of life, by the alternating movements from 
the interior of our houses into the fresh air, the use 
of garments put on or taken off with too little precau¬ 
tion, and all the cares that our excessive sensuality has 
turned into necessary habits, the neglect or privation of 
which then costs us our life or our health; if you 
take into account fires and earthquakes which, burn¬ 
ing or upsetting whole cities, cause their inhabitants 
to die by the thousands; in a word, if you unite the 
dangers that all these causes continually gather over 
our heads, you will sense how dearly nature makes us 
pay for the scorn we have shown for its lessons. 

I shall not repeat here what I have said elsewhere 
about war; 70 but I wish that informed men wanted or 
dared, for once, to give the public the detail of the 
horrors committed in armies by supply and hospital 
entrepreneurs. One would sec that their not overly 

rousseau’s notes/ 197 

secret maneuvers, because of which the most brilliant 
armies dissolve into less than nothing, cause more 
soldiers to perish than are cut down by the enemy’s 
sword. It is no less astonishing, further, to calculate 
the men swallowed up by the sea ever}’ year, either 
by hunger, or scurvy, or pirates, or fire, or shipwreck. It 
is clear that to established property, and consequently 
to society, must be attributed the assassinations, poison¬ 
ings, highway robberies, and even the punishments 
of these crimes: punishments that are necessary to 
prevent greater evils, but which, costing the lives of 
two or more for the murder of one man, nevertheless 
actually double the loss to the human species. How 
many shameful ways there are to prevent the birth 
of men and trick nature; either by those brutal and 
depraved tastes that insult its most charming work, 
tastes that neither savages nor animals ever knew and 
that have arisen in civilized countries only from a cor¬ 
rupt imagination; or by those secret abortions, worthy 
fruits of debauchery and vicious honor; or by the ex¬ 
posure or murder of a multitude of infants, victims 
of the miser}’ of their parents or the barbarous shame of 
their mothers; or, finally, by the mutilation of those 
unfortunates, for whom a part of their existence and 
all their posterity are sacrificed to vain songs or, worse 
yet, to the brutal jealousy of a few men: a mutilation 
which, in this last case, doubly outrages nature, both 
by the treatment given those who suffer it and by the 
use to which they are destined! 

But are there not a thousand more frequent and even 
more dangerous cases in which paternal rights openly 
offend humanity? How many talents are buried and 
inclinations forced by the imprudent constraint of 


fathers! I low many men would have distinguished 
themselves in an appropriate status who die unhappy 
and dishonored in another status for which they had 
no taste! IIow many happy but unequal marriages have 
been broken or disturbed, and how many chaste wives 
dishonored, by this order of conditions always in con¬ 
tradiction with that of nature! How many other bizarre 
unions formed by interest and disavowed by love and 
reason! How many even honest and virtuous spouses 
torture one another because of being ill-mated! How 
many young and unhappy victims of their parents’ 
avarice plunge into vice or spend their sad days in 
tears, and groan in indissoluble chains which the heart 
rejects and which gold alone has fonncd! Happy some¬ 
times are those women whose courage and even virtue 
tear them from life before barbarous violence forces 
them into crime or despair. Forgive me, father and 
mother forever deplorable: I regretfully embitter your 
suffering; but may it serve as an eternal and terrible 
example to whomever dares, in the very name of 
nature, to violate the most sacred of its rights! 

If I have spoken only of those ill-formed unions that 
arc the product of our civilization, is it to be thought 
that those over which love and sympathy have pre¬ 
sided are themselves without disadvantages? What 
would happen if I undertook to show the human species 
attacked at its very source, and even in the most holy 
of all bonds, where one no longer dares to listen to 
nature until after consulting his fortune, and where, 
with civil disorder confusing virtues and vices, con¬ 
tinence becomes a criminal precaution and the refusal 
to give life to one’s fellow-man an act of humanity? 
But without tearing off the veil that covers so many 

rousseau’s notes/ 199 

horrors, let us be content to indicate the evil for which 
others must furnish the remedy. 

Add to all this that quantity of unhealthy trades 
which shorten lives or destroy the physique, such 
as labor in mines, various preparations of metals and 
minerals, especially lead, copper, mercury, cobalt, 
arsenic, realgar; those other perilous trades which daily 
cost the life of a number of workers, some of them 
roofers, others carpenters, others masons, others working 
in quarries; gather all these things together, I say, and 
one will be able to see in the establishment and perfec¬ 
tion of societies the reasons for the diminution of the 
species observed by more than one philosopher. 77 

Luxury, impossible to prevent among men greedy for 
their own commodities and the esteem of others, soon 
completes the evil that societies began; and on the 
pretext of keeping the poor alive, which it was not 
necessary to do, luxury impoverishes everyone else, and 
depopulates the State sooner or later. 

Luxury' is a remedy far worse than the evil it claims 
to cure; or rather it is itself the worst of all evils in any 
State whatever, whether large or small, and in order to 
feed the crowds of lackeys and miserable people it has 
created, it crushes and ruins the farmer and the citizen, 
like those burning winds in the south which, covering 
the grass and greener}' with devouring insects, take 
subsistence away from useful animals, and bring famine 
and death to ever}' place where they make themselves 

From society and the luxury it engenders arise the 
liberal and mechanical arts, commerce, letters, and all 
those useless things which make industry flourish, en¬ 
rich and ruin States. The reason for this deterioration 

200 / second discourse 

is very simple. It is easy to see that, by its nature, 
agriculture must be the least lucrative of all the arts, 
because its product being of the most indispensable use 
to all men, its price must be in proportion to the 
abilities of the poorest. From the same principle can 
be drawn this rule: in general the arts are lucrative 
in inverse ratio to their utility, and the most neces¬ 
sary must finally become the most neglected. From 
this one sees what must be thought of the true ad¬ 
vantages of industry and of the real effect that results 
from its progress. 

Such are the perceptible causes of all the miseries 
into which opulence finally precipitates the most ad¬ 
mired nations. As industry and the arts spread and 
flower, the scorned cultivator, burdened with taxes 
necessary for the maintenance of luxury and con¬ 
demned to spend his life between labor and hunger, 
abandons his fields to go to the cities in search of the 
bread he ought to carry there. The more capital cities 
impress the stupid eyes of the people as admirable, the 
more it will be necessary to groan at the sight of the 
abandoned countryside, fallow fields, and main routes 
flooded with unhappy citizens who have become beg¬ 
gars or thieves, destined to end their misery one day 
on the rack or on a dung-heap. Thus the State, en¬ 
riching itself on one hand, weakens and depopulates it¬ 
self on the other, and thus the most powerful monar¬ 
chies, after much labor to become opulent and de¬ 
serted, end by becoming the prey of poor nations which 
succumb to the deadly temptation to invade them, and 
which grow rich and weak in their turn, until they 
arc themselves invaded and destroyed by others. 

Let someone deign to explain to us for once what 

rousseau’s notes /201 

could have produced those hordes of barbarians who, 
for so many centuries, inundated Europe, Asia, and 
Africa. Was it to the industry of their arts, the wisdom 
of their laws, and the excellence of their civil order 
that they owed that prodigious population? Let our 
learned men have the goodness to tell us why, far 
from multiplying to that point, those ferocious and 
brutal men, without enlightenment, without restraint, 
without education, did not all murder one another at 
every moment in disputing their food or game. Let them 
explain how these miserable men had even the bold¬ 
ness to look in the eye such clever men as we were, 
with such fine military discipline, such fine codes and 
such wise laws; and why, finally, after society was per¬ 
fected in the countries of the north, and so many pains 
taken there to teach men their mutual duties and the 
art of living together agreeably and peaceably, nothing 
more is seen to come from them like those multitudes 
of men it produced formerly. I am very fearful that 
someone may finally think of answering me that all 
these great things, namely the arts, sciences, and laws, 
have been very wisely invented by men as a salutary 
plague to prevent the excessive multiplication of the 
species, for fear that this world, which is destined for 
us, might finally become too small for its inhabitants. 

What! must we destroy societies, annihilate thine 
and mine, and go back to live in forests with bears? A 
conclusion in the manner of my adversaries, which I 
prefer to anticipate rather than leave them the shame 
of drawing it. Oh you, to whom the heavenly voice has 
not made itself heard and who recognize no other 
destination for your species than to end this brief life 
in peace; you who can leave your fatal acquisitions, 

202 / second discourse 

your worried minds, your corrupt hearts, and your un¬ 
bridled desires in the midst of cities; reclaim, since it 
is up to you, your ancient and first innocence; go into 
the woods to lose sight and memory of the crimes of 
your contemporaries, and have no fear of debasing your 
species in renouncing its enlightenment in order to 
renounce its vices. As for men like me, whose passions 
have forever destroyed their original simplicity, who 
can no longer nourish themselves on grass and nuts, 
nor do without laws and chiefs; those who were 
honored in their first father with supernatural lessons ; 78 
those who will see, in the intention of giving human 
actions a morality from the start which they would 
not have acquired for a long time, the reason for a pre¬ 
cept indifferent in itself and inexplicable in any other 
system ; 79 those, in a word, who are convinced that the 
divine voice called the whole human race to the en¬ 
lightenment and happiness of celestial Intelligences: 
all those will endeavor, through the exercise of virtues 
they obligate themselves to practice while learning to 
know them, to deserve the eternal reward they ought to 
expect from them; they will respect the sacred bonds 
of the societies of which they arc members; they will 
love their fellow-men and will serve them with all their 
power; they will scrupulously obey the laws, and the 
men who are their authors and ministers; they will 
honor above all the good and wise princes who will 
know how to prevent, cure, or palliate that multitude 
of abuses and evils always ready to crush us; they will 
animate the zeal of these worthy chiefs, by showing 
them without fear and flatter)’ the greatness of their 
task and the rigor of their duty. But they will none¬ 
theless scorn a constitution that can be maintained 

rousseau’s notes/ 203 

only with the help of so many respectable people— 
who are desired more often than obtained—and from 
which, despite all their care, always arise more real 
calamities than apparent advantages. 80 

Page 115 (/) Among the men we know, whether 
by ourselves, from historians, or from travelers, some 
are black, others white, others red; some wear their 
hair long, others have only curly wool; some are almost 
entirely hair}', others do not even have a beard. There 
have been, and there perhaps still are, nations of men 
of gigantic size; and apart from the fable of the Pyg¬ 
mies, which may well be only an exaggeration, it is 
known that the Laplanders, and above all the Green¬ 
landers, are well below the average size of man. It is 
even claimed that there are whole peoples that have 
tails like quadrupeds. And without accepting in blind 
faith the reports of Herodotus and Ctesias, one can at 
least draw from them this very likely opinion: if one 
had been able to make good observations in those 
ancient times when various peoples followed ways of 
life with greater differences between them than peo¬ 
ples do today, one would also have noted, in the shape 
and habits of the body, much more striking varieties. 
All these facts, for which it is easy to furnish incon¬ 
testable proofs, can surprise only those who are ac¬ 
customed to look solely at the objects surrounding 
them, and who are ignorant of the powerful effects of 
the diversity of climates, air, foods, way of life, habits 
in general, and above all the astonishing force of the 
same causes when they act continually upon long se¬ 
quences of generations. Today when commerce, voy¬ 
ages, and conquests unite various peoples more, and 
their ways of life are constantly brought closer to- 

204 / second discourse 

gether by frequent communication, it is perceived that 
certain national differences have diminished; and, for 
example, everyone can see that the French of today 
are no longer those large, pale, and blond-haired bodies 
described by Latin historians, although time, together 
with the admixture of the Francs and Normans, them¬ 
selves pale and blond-haired, ought to have re-estab¬ 
lished what the frequentation of the Romans could 
have removed from the influence of the climate in the 
natural constitution and complexion of the inhabitants. 
All these observations upon the varieties that a thou¬ 
sand causes can produce and have in fact produced in 
the human species make me wonder whether various 
animals similar to men, taken by travelers for beasts 
without much examination, either because of a few 
differences they noted in exterior conformation or 
solely because these animals did not speak, would not 
in fact be true savage men whose race, dispersed in 
the woods in ancient times, had not had an opportunity 
to develop any of its potential faculties, had not ac¬ 
quired any degree of perfection, and was still found in 
the primitive state of nature. Let me give an example 
of what I mean. 

“In the kingdom of the Congo,” says the translator 
of the Ilistoire des voyages, “are found many of those 
large animals called orangutan in the East Indies, which 
arc a sort of middle point between the human species 
and the baboons. Battel relates that in the forests of 
Mayomba, in the kingdom of Loango, two kinds of 
monsters are seen, of which the larger arc named 
pongos and the others cnjocos. The former resemble 
man exactly, but they arc much heavier and very tall. 
With a human face, they have very deep-set eyes. 

rousseau’s notes/ 205 

Their hands, cheeks and ears are hairless, except for 
eyebrows which are very long. Although the rest of 
their body is rather hairy, the hair is not very thick, 
and its color is brown. Finally, the only part that 
distinguishes them from men is their leg, which has 
no calf. They walk upright, holding each other by the 
hair of the neck; their retreat is in the woods; they sleep 
in trees, and there they make a kind of roof which 
shelters them from rain. Their foods are fruits or wild 
nuts. They never eat flesh. The custom of Negroes who 
cross the forests is to light fires during the night; they 
note that in the morning, at their departure, the pongos 
take their place around the fire, and do not withdraw 
until it is out; for with all their cleverness, they do not 
have enough sense to keep it going by bringing wood 
to it. 

“They sometimes walk in groups and kill Negroes 
who cross the forests. They even fall upon elephants 
that come to graze in the places they inhabit, and 
annoy them so with punches or sticks that they force 
them to flee screaming. Pongos are never taken alive 
because they are so robust that ten men would not 
suffice to stop them. But the Negroes take many young 
ones after killing the mother, to whose body the young 
are strongly attached. When one of these animals dies, 
the others cover its body with a heap of branches or 
leaves. Purchass adds that in the conversations he had 
with Battel he learned from him that a pongo kid¬ 
napped a little Negro who spent a whole month in the 
society of these animals, for they do no harm to men 
they take by surprise, at least when the latter do not 
pay attention to them, as the little Negro had observed. 
Battel did not describe the second species of monster. 

206 / second discourse 

“Dapper confirms that the kingdom of the Congo is 
full of those animals which in the Indies have the name 
orangutans, that is to say, inhabitants of the woods, 
and which the Africans call quojas monos. This beast, 
he says, is so similar to man that it came to the mind 
of some travelers that it might have issued from a 
woman and a monkey: a chimera which even the Ne¬ 
groes reject. One of these animals was transported 
from the Congo to Holland, and presented to the 
Prince of Orange, Frederick-IIcnry. It was the height 
of a three-year-old child, and moderately stout but 
sejuare and well-proportioned, very agile and lively, its 
legs fleshy and robust, the whole front of its body 
naked but the back covered with black hair. At first 
sight its face resembled that of a man, but it had a 
flat and curved nose; its ears were also those of the 
human species; its breast, for it was a female, was 
plump, its navel deep, its shoulders very well joined, 
its hands divided into fingers and thumbs, its calves 
and heels fat and fleshy. It often walked upright on 
its legs, it was able to lift and cam- rather heavy loads. 
When it wanted to drink, it took the cover of the 
pot in one hand, and held the base with the other, 
afterward it graciously wiped its lips. It lay down to 
sleep with its head on a pillow, covering itself so skill¬ 
fully that one would have taken it for a man in bed. 
The Negroes tell strange tales about this animal. They 
assert not only that it docs violence to women and 
girls, but that it dares to attack armed men. In a word, 
there is great likelihood that it is the satyr of the 
ancients. Merolla perhaps speaks of none other than 
these animals when he relates that Negroes some¬ 
times catch savage men and women in their limits.” 81 

rousseau’s NOTEs/207 

These species of anthropomorphic animals are 
spoken of again in the third volume of the same His- 
toire des voyages under the name of beggos and 
mandrills. But to limit ourselves to the preceding re¬ 
ports, in the description of these supposed monsters 
are found striking conformities with the human species 
and lesser differences than those which could be as¬ 
signed between one man and another. In these pas¬ 
sages one does not see the reasons the authors have 
for refusing to give the animals in question the name 
of savage men; but it is easy to guess that it is due 
to their stupidity and also because they did not talk: 
weak reasons for those who know that although the 
organ of speech is natural to man, speech itself is 
nonetheless not natural to him, and who know to what 
point his perfectibility can have raised civil man above 
his original state. The small number of lines these 
descriptions contain can enable us to judge how badly 
these animals were observed, and with what prejudices 
they were seen. For example, they are qualified as 
monsters, and yet it is agreed that they reproduce. In 
one place, Battel says that the pongos kill Negroes who 
cross the forests; in another, Purchass adds that they 
do not do them any harm, even when they surprise 
them, at least when the Negroes make no effort to pay 
attention to them. The pongos gather around fires lit 
by Negroes when the latter withdraw, and withdraw 
in turn when the fire is out: there is the fact. Here now 
is the commentary of the observer: for with all their 
cleverness , they do not have enough sense to keep it 
going by bringing wood to it. I would like to guess how 
Battel, or Purchass his compiler, could have known 
that the withdrawal of the pongos was an effect of their 

208 / second discourse 

stupidity rather than their will. In a climate such as 
Loango, fire is not a very necessary thing for animals; 
and if the Negroes light it, it is less .against the cold 
than to frighten wild beasts. It is therefore a very 
simple thing that having enjoyed the blaze for some 
time, or being well warmed, the pongos arc bored with 
always staying in the same place and go off to find 
food, which requires more time than if they ate flesh. 
Besides, it is known that most animals, not excepting 
man, are naturally lazy, and that they deny themselves 
all kinds of cares that are not of an absolute necessity. 
Finally, it seems very strange that the pongos whose 
skill and strength is praised, the pongos who know how 
to bury their dead and make themselves roofs out of 
branches, should not know how to push wood into the 
fire. I remember having seen a monkey perform the 
same maneuver that it is denied a pongo can do. It 
is true that my ideas not then being directed to this 
problem, I myself committed the error for which I re¬ 
proach our travelers, and I neglected to examine 
whether the monkey’s intention was in fact to sustain 
the fire or simply, as I believe, to imitate the action of 
a man. Whatever the case, it is well demonstrated that 
the monkey is not a variety of man, not only because 
he is deprived of the faculty of speech, but especially 
because it is certain that his species does not have the 
faculty of perfecting itself, which is the specific char¬ 
acteristic of the human species—experiments which do 
not appear to have been made on the pongo and the 
orangutan with enough care to allow drawing the same 
conclusion for them. There would, however, be a means 
bv which, if the orangutan or others were of the human 
species, the crudest observers could even assure them- 

rousseau’s notes /209 

selves of it by demonstration. But besides the fact that 
a single generation would not suffice for this experi¬ 
ment, it must pass as impracticable, because it would 
be necessary that what is only a supposition were shown 
to be true before the test that ought to verify the fact 
could be tried innocently. 82 

Precipitous judgments, which are not the fruit of en¬ 
lightened reason, are liable to be excessive. Without 
ceremony our travelers take for beasts, under the names 
pongos, mandrills, orangutans, the same beings that the 
ancients, under the names satyrs, fauns, sylvans, took 
for divinities. Perhaps, after more precise research, it 
will be found that they are neither animals nor gods, 
but men. 83 In the meantime, it seems to me that there 
is as much reason to defer on this subject to Merolla, 
an educated monk, an eyewitness, and one who, with 
all his naivete, was nonetheless a man of wit, as to the 
merchant Battel, Dapper, Purchass, and the other com¬ 

What judgment would such observers have made 
about the child found in 1694, of whom I spoke before, 
who gave no sign of reason, walked on his hands and 
feet, had no language, and formed sounds having no 
resemblance whatever to those of a man? It took a 
long time, continues the same philosopher who pro¬ 
vided me with this fact, 84 before he could utter a few 
words, and then he did it in a barbarous way. As 
soon as he could speak, he was questioned about his 
first state, but he did not remember it any more than 
we remember what happened to us in the cradle. If, 
unhappily for him, this child had fallen into the hands 
of our travelers, it cannot be doubted that after noting 
his silence and stupidity, they would have decided to 


send him back to the woods or lock him up in a zoo; 
after which they would have spoken learnedly of him in 
splendid reports as a very' curious beast which looked 
rather like man. 

For the three or four hundred years since the in¬ 
habitants of Europe have inundated the other parts of 
the world, and continually published new collections 
of voyages and reports, I am convinced that we know 
no other men except the Europeans; furthermore, it ap¬ 
pears, from the ridiculous prejudices which have not 
died out even among men of letters, that under the 
pompous name of the study of man everyone does 
hardly anything except study the men of his country. 
In vain do individuals come and go; it seems that 
philosophy does not travel. In addition, the philosophy 
of each people is but little suited for another. 'Hie 
cause of this is manifest, at least for distant countries; 
there are scarcely more than four sorts of men who 
make vovages of long duration: sailors, merchants, 
soldiers, and missionaries. Now it can hardly be ex¬ 
pected that the first three classes should provide good 
observers; and as for those in the fourth, occupied by 
the sublime vocation that calls them, even if they were 
not subject to the same prejudices of status as arc all 
the others, it must be believed that they would not 
voluntarily give themselves over to researches that ap¬ 
pear to be pure curiosity, and which would distract 
them from the more important works to which they 
arc destined. Besides, to preach the Gospel usefully, 
zeal alone is necessary' and God gives the rest; but to 
study men, talents arc necessary' that God is not obli¬ 
gated to give anyone, and that arc not always the lot of 
saints. One does not open a book of voyages without 


Rousseau’s notes/2ii 

finding descriptions of characters and customs. But one 
is completely amazed to see that these people who 
have described so many things have said only what 
everyone already knew, that they have known how to 
perceive, at the other end of the world, only what it 
was up to them to notice without leaving their street; 
and that those true features that distinguish nations 
and strike eyes made to see have almost always escaped 
theirs. Hence this fine adage of ethics, so often re¬ 
peated bv the philosophical rabble: That men are 
everywhere the same; that as they have the same pas¬ 
sions and the same vices everywhere, it is rather use¬ 
less to seek to characterize different peoples—which is 
about as well reasoned as if one were to say it is im¬ 
possible to distinguish Peter from James, because they 
both have a nose, a mouth, and eyes. 

Shall we never see reborn those happy times when 
the people did not dabble in philosophy, but when a 
Plato, a Thales, a Pythagoras, seized with an ardent 
desire to know, undertook the greatest voyages solely 
to inform themselves, and went far away to shake off 
the yoke of national prejudices, to learn to know men 
by their likenesses and their differences, and to acquire 
that universal knowledge which is not that of one cen¬ 
tury or one country exclusively, but which, being of 
all times and all places, is so to speak the common 
science of the wise? 

One admires the lavishness of some curious peo¬ 
ple who have, at great expense, made or arranged 
voyages to the Orient with learned men and painters, 
to draw pictures of ruins there and to decipher or copy 
inscriptions. But I have difficulty conceiving how, in a 
century taking pride in splendid knowledge, there arc 


not to be found two closely united men—rich, one in 
money and the other in genius, both loving glory and 
aspiring to immortality—one of whom would sacrifice 
twenty thousand crowns of his wealth and the other 
ten years of his life to a celebrated voyage around the 
world, in order to study, not always stones and plants, 
but for once men and morals, and who, after so many 
centuries used to measure and examine the house, 
should finally make up their minds to want to know its 

The academicians who have traveled through the 
northern parts of Europe and the southern parts of 
America intended to visit them as geometers rather 
than as philosophers. However, being both at the same 
time, the regions that have been seen and described 
by La Condamine and Maupcrtuis cannot be con¬ 
sidered as entirely unknown. The jeweler Chardin, who 
traveled like Plato, left nothing to be said about Persia. 
China appears to have been well observed by the 
Jesuits. Kempfer gives a passable idea of the little he 
saw in Japan. With the exception of these reports, we 
know nothing of the peoples of the East Indies, who 
have been frequented solely by Europeans more desir¬ 
ous to fill their purses than their heads. All of Africa 
and its numerous inhabitants, as distinctive in char¬ 
acter as in color, arc still to be examined; the whole 
earth is covered by nations of which we know only 
the names—yet we dabble in judging the human race! 
Let us suppose a Montesquieu, Buffon, Diderot, Du- 
clos, d’Alembert, Condillac, or men of that stamp 
traveling in order to inform their compatriots, observ¬ 
ing and describing, as they know how, Turkey, Egypt, 
Barbarv, the empire of Morocco, Guinea, the land of 
the Bantus, the interior of Africa and its eastern coasts, 

rousseau’s NOTEs/213 

the Malabars, Mogul, the banks of the Ganges, the 
kingdoms of Siam, Pegu, and Ava, China, Tartary, 
and especially Japan; then, in the other hemisphere, 
Mexico, Peru, Chile, the straits of Magellan, not for¬ 
getting the Patagonias true or false, Tucuman, Para¬ 
guay if possible, Brazil; finally the Caribbean islands, 
Florida, and all the savage countries: the most im¬ 
portant voyage of all and the one that must be under¬ 
taken with the greatest care. Let us suppose that these 
new Plercules, back from these memorable expeditions, 
then at leisure wrote the natural, moral, and political 
history of what thev would have seen; we ourselves 
would see a new world come from their pens, and we 
would thus learn to know our own. I say that when 
such observers will affirm of a given animal that it is 
a man and of another that it is a beast, they will have 
to be believed; but it would be too credulous to defer 
to crude travelers about whom one would sometimes 
be tempted to ask the very question that they meddle 
in resolving concerning other animals. 85 

Page 116 (k) That seems totally evident to me, and 
I am unable to conceive whence our philosophers can 
derive all the passions they impute to natural man. 
With the sole exception of the physically necessary, 
which nature itself demands, all our other needs are 
such only by habit, having previously not been needs, 
or bv our desires; and one does not desire that which 
he is not capable of knowing. From which it follows 
that savage man, desiring only the things he knows 
and knowing only those things the possession of which 
is in his power or easily acquired, nothing should be 
so tranquil as his soul and nothing so limited as his 

Page 121 ( l ) I find in Locke’s On Civil Government 

214/second DISCOURSE 

an objection which seems to me too specious for me to 
be allowed to conceal it. 86 “The end of conjunction 
between male and female/’ says this philosopher, “be¬ 
ing not barely procreation, but the continuation of the 
species, this conjunction ought to last, even after pro¬ 
creation, so long as is necessary to the nourishment and 
support of the young ones, till they are able to shift 
and provide for themselves. This rule, which the infinite 
wise Maker hath set to the works of his hands, we find 
the inferior creatures steadily and exactly obey. In 
those animals which feed on grass, the conjunction 
between male and female lasts no longer than the very 
act of copulation, because the teat of the dam being 
sufficient to nourish the young till it be able to feed on 
grass, the male only begets, but concerns not himself 
for the female or young to whose subsistence he can 
contribute nothing. But in beasts of prey the conjunc¬ 
tion lasts longer, because the dam not being able well 
to subsist herself and nourish her numerous offspring 
by her own prey alone, a more laborious as well as more 
dangerous way of living than by feeding on grass; the 
assistance of the male is altogether ncccssarv to the 
maintenance of their common family, if one may use 
that term, which cannot subsist till they are able to 
prey for themselves, but by the joint care of male and 
female. The same is to be observed in all birds (except 
some domestic ones where plenty of food excuses the 
cock from feeding and taking care of the young brood), 
whose young needing food in the nest, the cock and 
the hen bring it to them, till the young arc able to use 
their wing and provide for themselves. 

“And herein, I think, lies the chief, if not the onlv, 
reason why the male and female in mankind arc tied 

rousseau’s NOTEs/215 

to a longer conjunction than other creatures, viz., be¬ 
cause the female is capable of conceiving, and is com¬ 
monly with child again and brings forth, too, a new 
birth, long before the former is out of a dependency 
for support on his parent’s help, and able to shift for 
himself; whereby the father, who is bound to take 
care for those he hath begot, and to undertake that 
care for a long time, is under an obligation to continue 
in conjugal society with the same woman by whom he 
has had them, and to remain in that society much 
longer than other creatures, whose young being able 
to subsist of themselves before the time of procreation 
returns again, the conjugal bond dissolves of itself, and 
they are at complete liberty, till Hymen at his usual an¬ 
niversary season summons them again to choose new 
mates. Wherein one cannot but admire the wisdom 
of the Creator who, having given to man an ability to 
lay up for the future as well as to supply the present 
necessity, hath wanted and made it necessary that 
society of man should be more lasting than of male and 
female amongst other creatures, that so their industry 
might be encouraged, and their interest better united, 
to make provision and lay up goods for their common 
issue, which uncertain mixture, or easy and frequent 
solutions of conjugal society would mightily disturb.” 

The same love of truth which made me sincerely 
present this objection prompts me to accompany it 
with a few remarks, if not to resolve it, at least to 
clarify it. 

1. I shall observe first that moral proofs do not have 
great force in matters of physics, and that they serve 
rather to give a reason for existing facts than to prove 
the real existence of those facts. Now such is the kind 


of proof Mr. Locke uses in the passage I have just 
quoted; for although it may be advantageous to the 
human species for the union between man and woman 
to be permanent, it does not follow that it was thus 
established by nature; otherwise it would be necessary 
to say that nature also instituted civil society, the arts, 
commerce, and all that is claimed to be useful to men. 

2. I do not know where Mr. Locke found out that 
among animals of prey the society of male and female 
lasts longer than among those that live on grass, and 
that the former helps the latter to feed the young: 
for it is not observed that the dog, cat, bear, or 
wolf recognize their female better than the horse, 
ram, bull, stag, or all the other quadrupeds recog¬ 
nize theirs. It seems on the contrary that if the 
help of the male were necessary to the female to pre¬ 
sene her young, it would be above all in the species 
that live only on grass, because the mother needs a 
very long time to graze, and during that entire period 
she is forced to neglect her brood; whereas the prey 
of a female bear or wolf is devoured in an instant, and 
she has more time, without suffering from hunger, to 
nurse her young. This reasoning is confirmed by an 
obsen'ation upon the relative number of teats and 
young which distinguishes the carnivorous species from 
the frugivorous, and about which I spoke in note (h). 
If this obscmition is correct and general, as woman 
has only two teats and rarely produces more than one 
child at a time, there is one more strong reason to 
doubt that the human species is naturally carnivorous. 
So it seems that in order to draw I-ockc’s conclusion, 
his reasoning would have to be altogether reversed. The 
same distinction applied to birds is no more solid. For 

rousseau’s NOTEs/217 

who can be persuaded that the union of male and fe¬ 
male is more durable among vultures and ravens than 
among turtle-doves? We have two species of domestic 
birds, the duck and the pigeon, which provide us with 
examples directly contrary to the system of this author. 
The pigeon, which lives only on grain, remains united 
with its female, and they nourish their young in com¬ 
mon. The duck, whose voracity is known, recognizes 
neither its female nor its young, and does nothing to 
help with their subsistence; and among hens, a species 
hardly less carnivorous, it is not observed that the 
rooster troubles himself in the least for the brood. And 
if in other species the male shares with the female the 
care of nourishing the young, it is because birds, which 
cannot fly at first and which the mother cannot nurse, 
are less able to do without the assistance of the father 
than are quadrupeds, for which the mother’s teat suf¬ 
fices, at least for some time. 

3. There is much uncertainty about the principal fact 
that serves as a basis for all of Mr. Locke’s reasoning: 
for in order to know whether, as he claims, in the pure 
state of nature the woman is ordinarily pregnant again 
and has another child long before the preceding one 
can himself provide for his needs, it would be necessary 
to make experiments that Mr. Locke surely did not 
make and that no one is able to make. The continual 
cohabitation of husband and wife provides such an 
immediate opportunity to be exposed to a new preg¬ 
nancy that it is very hard to believe that chance en¬ 
counter or the impulsion of temperament alone pro¬ 
duced such frequent effects in the pure state of nature 
as in the state of conjugal society—a slowness which 
would perhaps tend to make the children more robust, 


and which in addition might be compensated by a 
prolonged ability to conceive among women, who 
would have abused it less in their youth. With regard 
to children, there are many reasons to believe that 
their strength and their organs develop later among 
us than they did in the primitive state of which I speak. 
The original weakness they derive from the constitution 
of their parents, the cares taken to wrap and restrain 
all their limbs, the softness in which they arc raised, 
perhaps the use of milk other than their mother’s, 
everything opposes and retards in them the first prog¬ 
ress of nature. The concentration they are obliged 
to give to a thousand things on which their attention 
is continually fixed, while no exercise is given to their 
bodily strength, may also bring about considerable di¬ 
version in their growth; so that if instead of first over¬ 
burdening and tiring their minds in a thousand ways, 
their bodies were left to be exercised by the continual 
movements that nature seems to demand of them, it is 
to be presumed that they would much sooner be capa¬ 
ble of walking, acting, and providing for their needs 
themselves. 87 

4. Finally, Mr. Locke proves at most that there 
could well be in a man a motive for remaining attached 
to a woman when she has a child; but he docs not 
prove at all that he must have been attached to her 
before the deliver)' and during the nine months of 
pregnancy. If a given woman is indifferent to the man 
during these nine months, if she even becomes un¬ 
known to him, why will lie assist her after delivery? 
Why will lie help her to raise a child he docs not even 
know belongs to him, and whose birth he neither 
planned nor foresaw? Mr. Locke evidently supposes 

rousseau’s NOTEs/219 

what is in question; for it is not a matter of knowing 
why the man will remain attached to the woman after 
delivery, but why he will become attached to her after 
conception. His appetite satisfied, the man no longer 
needs a given woman, nor the woman a given man. The 
man has not the least concern nor perhaps the least 
idea of the consequences of his action. One goes off 
in one direction, the other in another, and there is 
no likelihood that at the end of nine months they 
have any memory of having known each other: for 
this kind of memory, by which one individual gives 
preference to another for the act of procreation, re¬ 
quires, as I prove in the text, more progress or corrup¬ 
tion in human understanding than can be supposed 
in man in the state of animality in question here. An¬ 
other woman can therefore satisfy the new desires of 
the man as conveniently as .the one he has already 
known, and another man satisfy in the same way the 
woman, supposing that she is impelled by the same 
appetite during pregnancy, which can reasonably be 
doubted. And if in the state of nature the woman no 
longer feels the passion of love after the conception 
of the child, the obstacle to her society with the man 
thereby becomes much greater still, since then she no 
longer needs either the man who impregnated her or 
any other. Therefore there is not, for the man, any rea¬ 
son to seek the same woman, nor for the woman, any 
reason to seek the same man. Locke’s reasoning there¬ 
fore falls apart, and all the dialectic of this philosopher 
has not saved him from the error committed by Hobbes 
and others. They had to explain a fact of the state of 
nature, that is to say, of a state where men lived isolated 
and where a given man had no motive for living near 


another given man, nor perhaps to live near one an¬ 
other, which is much worse; and they did not think 
of earning themselves back beyond fhe centuries of 
society, that is to say, of those times when men have 
always had a reason to live near one another, and when 
a given man often has a reason for living beside a 
given man or a given woman. 88 

Page 121 (m) I shall refrain from launching into 
the philosophic reflections to be made about the 
advantages and inconveniences of this institution of 
languages: it is not for me to be permitted to attack 
vulgar errors, and educated people respect their preju¬ 
dices too much to bear my supposed paradoxes with 
patience. Let us therefore let men speak who have not 
been accused of a crime for sometimes daring to take 
the side of reason against the opinion of the multitude. 
Nec quidquam felicitati humani generis decederet, si 
pulsa tot linguarum peste et confusione, unam artem 
callerent mortales, et signis, motibus, gestibusque, lici- 
tum foret quidvis explicare. Nunc vero ita comparatum 
est, ut animalium quae vulgo bruta creduntur melior 
longe quam nostra hac in parte videatur conditio, ut- 
pote quae promptius, et forsan felicius, setisus et cogi- 
tationes suas sine interprete significent, quam ulli 
queant mortales, praesertim si peregrino utantur ser- 
mone. (Is. Vossius, de Poemat. Cant, et Viribus 
Rythmi, p. 66.) 89 

Page 126 (n) Plato, showing how ideas of discrete 
quantity and its relationships are necessary in the least 
of arts, with reason makes fun of the authors of his 
time who claimed that Palamcdcs had invented num¬ 
bers at the siege of Troy; as if, says this philosopher, 
Agamemnon could have been ignorant until then of 

rousseau’s notes/22i 

how many legs he had. 90 In fact, one senses the impos¬ 
sibility for society and the arts to have reached the 
point where they already were at the time of the siege 
of Troy unless men had the use of numbers and arith¬ 
metic. But the need to know numbers, before acquiring 
other knowledge, does not make their invention easier 
to imagine. Once the names of the numbers are known, 
it is easy to explain their meaning and evoke the ideas 
these names represent; but in order to invent them it 
was necessary, before conceiving of these same ideas, 
to be so to speak familiar with philosophic medita¬ 
tions, to be trained in considering beings by their sole 
essence and independently of all other perception: a 
very difficult, very metaphysical, very unnatural ab¬ 
straction, and one without which, nonetheless, these 
ideas could never have been carried from one species 
or genus to another, nor could numbers have become 
universal. A savage could consider separately his right 
leg and his left leg, or look at them together under the 
indivisible idea of a pair, without ever thinking that he 
had two of them; for the representative idea which 
depicts an object to us is one thing, and the numerical 
idea which determines it is another. He was even less 
able to count to five; and although, placing his hands 
on one another, he could have noticed that the fingers 
corresponded exactly, he was very far from thinking of 
their numerical equality. He did not know the sum of 
his fingers any more than that of his hairs; and if, after 
having made him understand what numbers are, some¬ 
one said to him that he had as many toes as fingers, 
he would perhaps have been very surprised, in com¬ 
paring them, to find it was true. 

Page 130 (o) Vanity and love of oneself, two pas- 


sions very different in their nature and their effects, 
must not be confused. Love of oneself is a natural sen¬ 
timent which inclines ever)' animal to watch over its 
own preservation, and which, directed in man by rea¬ 
son and modified by pity, produces humanity and vir¬ 
tue. Vanity is only a relative sentiment, artificial and 
bom in society, which inclines each individual to have 
a greater esteem for himself than for anyone else, in¬ 
spires in men all the harm they do to one another, and 
is the true source of honor. 

This being well understood, I say that in our primi¬ 
tive state, in the true state of nature, vanity does not 
exist; for each particular man regarding himself as the 
sole spectator to observe him, as the sole being in the 
universe to take an interest in him, and as the sole 
judge of his own merit, it is not possible that a senti¬ 
ment having its source in comparisons he is not capable 
of making could spring up in his soul. For the same 
reason this man could have neither hate nor desire for 
revenge, passions that can arise only from the opinion 
that some offense has been received; and as it is scorn 
or intention to hurt and not the harm that constitutes 
the offense, men who know neither how to evaluate 
themselves nor compare themselves can do each other a 
great deal of mutual violence when they derive some 
advantage from it, without ever offending one another. 
In a word, every man, seeing his fellow-men hardly 
otherwise than he would see animals of another species, 
can carry off the prey of the weaker or relinquish his 
own to the stronger, without considering these plunder¬ 
ings as anything but natural events, without the slight¬ 
est emotion of insolence or spite, and with no other 
passion than the sadness or joy of a good or bad out¬ 

rousseau’s NOTEs/223 

Page 151 ( p ) It is an extremely remarkable thing, 
for all the years that Europeans have been tormenting 
themselves to bring the savages of various countries in 
the world to their way of life, that they have not yet 
been able to win over a single one, not even with the 
aid of Christianity; for our missionaries sometimes 
make Christians of them, but never civilized men. 
Nothing can overcome the invincible repugnance they 
have against adopting our morals and living in our 
way. If these poor savages are as unhappy as it is 
claimed they are, by what inconceivable depravity of 
judgment do they constantly refuse to civilize them¬ 
selves by imitating us or to learn to live happily among 
us; whereas one reads in a thousand places that French¬ 
men and other Europeans have voluntarily taken refuge 
among these nations, spent their entire lives there, no 
longer able to leave such a strange way of life; and 
whereas one sees even sensible missionaries touchingly 
regret the calm and innocent days they have spent 
among such greatly scorned peoples? If one answers 
that they do not have enough intellect to judge soundly 
about their state and ours, I shall reply that the esti¬ 
mation of happiness is less the concern of reason than 
of sentiment. Besides, this reply can be turned against 
us with even more force; for there is a greater distance 
between our ideas and the mental disposition necessary 
in order to conceive of the taste that savages find for 
their way of life than between the ideas of savages and 
those that can allow them to conceive of our way of 
life. In fact, after several observations it is easy for 
them to see that all our labors are directed toward 
only two objects: namely, the commodities of life for 
oneself, and consideration among others. But how are 
we to imagine the kind of pleasure a savage takes in 


spending his life alone in the middle of the woods, or 
fishing, or blowing into a bad flute, without ever know¬ 
ing how to get a single tone from it and without 
troubling himself to learn? 

Several times savages have been brought to Paris, 
London, and other cities; men have hurried to show 
off our luxury, our wealth, and all our most useful and 
curious arts; all this has never aroused in them anything 
except stupid admiration, without the slightest emotion 
of covetousness. I recall among others the story of a 
chief of some North Americans who was brought to 
the court of England some thirty years ago. A thousand 
things were put before his eyes to try to give him some 
present that could please him, but nothing could be 
found about which he seemed to care. Our weapons 
seemed heavy and inconvenient to him; our shoes hurt 
his feet, our clothes confined him, he refused every¬ 
thing; finally someone observed that having taken a 
woolen blanket, he seemed to take pleasure in wrapping 
it around his shoulders. You will at least agree, some¬ 
one promptly said to him, about the usefulness of this 
article? Yes, he replied, it seems to me almost as good 
as an animal skin. And he would not even have said 
that if he had worn them both in the rain. 

Perhaps, someone will say to me, it is habit which, by 
attaching everyone to his way of life, prevents savages 
from sensing what is good in ours. And on that basis 
it must at least appear very extraordinary that habit 
has more strength in maintaining the savages’ taste 
for their misery than in maintaining Europeans in the 
enjoyment of their felicity. But to reply to this last 
objection with an answer to which there is not a word 
of rejoinder—without citing all the young savages 

Rousseau’s NOTEs/225 

whom men have tried in vain to civilize, without speak¬ 
ing of the Greenlanders and inhabitants of Iceland, 
whom men tried to raise and feed in Denmark and 
all of whom sadness and despair caused to perish, 
either from languor or in the sea when they tried to 
swim back to their homeland—I shall be content to 
cite a single, well-authenticated example, which I offer 
for the examination of admirers of European civiliza¬ 

“All the efforts of the Dutch missionaries at the Cape 
of Good Hope have never been able to convert a single 
Hottentot. Van der Stel, governor of the Cape, having 
taken one from infancy, had him raised in the principles 
of the Christian religion and in the practice of European 
customs. He was richly dressed, he was taught several 
languages, and his progress corresponded very well to 
the cares taken for his education. The governor, placing 
great hopes in his intelligence, sent him to the Indies 
with a general commissioner who employed him use¬ 
fully in the affairs of the company. He returned to the 
Cape after the death of the commissioner. A few days 
after his return, during a visit he paid to some of his 
Hottentot relatives, he made the decision to divest 
himself of his European finery in order to clothe him¬ 
self in a sheepskin. He returned to the fort in this new 
garb, carrying a package which contained his old 
clothes; and presenting them to the governor, he made 
this speech:* Be so kind, sir, as to understand that I 
renounce this paraphernalia forever; I renounce also 
for my entire life the Christian religion; my resolution 
is to live and die in the religion, ways, and customs of 

* See the frontispiece . 91 

226 /second discourse 

my ancestors. The sole favor I ask of you is to let me 
keep the necklace and cutlass I am wearing; I shall 
keep them for love of you. Immediately, without await¬ 
ing Van dcr Stel’s reply, he escaped by running away, 
and lie was never seen again at the Cape.” Iiistoire des 
voyages, volume 5, page 175. 02 

Page 157 ( q ) One could object that, in such a dis¬ 
order, men, instead of stubbornly murdering one an¬ 
other, would have dispersed if there had been no limits 
to their dispersion. But first, these limits would at least 
have been those of the world; and if one thinks of the 
excessive population which results from the state of 
nature, he will judge that it would not have been long 
before the earth, in that state, was covered with men, 
thus forced to remain together. Besides, they would 
have dispersed if the evil had been rapid, and had it 
been a change occurring overnight. But they were bom 
under the yoke; they were in the habit of bearing it 
when they felt its weight, and they were content to 
wait for the opportunity to shake it off. Finally, as they 
were already accustomed to a thousand commodities 
which forced them to remain together, dispersion was 
no longer so easy as in the first ages, when no one 
having need of anyone but himself, everyone made his 
decision without waiting for the consent of another. 

Page 160 (r) Marshal de Villars related that, in one 
of his campaigns, the excessive knavery of a food agent 
having made the army suffer and complain, he berated 
him severely and threatened to have him hanged. This 
threat docs not bother me, the knave boldly answered 
him, and I am very happy to tell you that a man who 
has a hundred thousand crowns at his disposal does 
not get hanged. I do not know how it happened, the 

Rousseau’s notes7227 

Marshal added naively, but in fact he was not hanged, 
although he had deserved it a hundred times. 

Page 174 (s) Distributive justice would still be op¬ 
posed to this rigorous equality of the state of nature, 
even if it were practicable in civil society; and as all 
the members of the state owe it services proportionate 
to their talents and strengths, the citizens in their turn 
ought to be distinguished and favored in proportion 
to their sendees. It is in this sense that a passage of 
Isocrates must be understood, in which he praises the 
first Athenians for having well known how to distin¬ 
guish which was the most advantageous of the two 
sorts of equality, one of which consists in dividing the 
same advantages among all citizens indifferently, and 
the other in distributing them according to each man’s 
merit. These skillful politicians, adds the orator, ban¬ 
ishing that unjust equality which establishes no differ¬ 
ence between evil and good men, adhered inviolably 
to that which rewards and punishes everyone according 
to his merit. 93 But first, no society has ever existed, no 
matter what degree of corruption societies might have 
reached, in which no difference between evil and good 
men was established; and in matters of morals—where 
the law cannot establish an exact enough measurement 
to serve as a rule for the magistrate—the law very 
wisely, in order not to leave the fate or rank of citizens 
at his discretion, forbids him the judgment of persons, 
leaving him only that of actions. Only morals as pure 
as those of the ancient Romans can bear censors; such 
tribunals would soon have overthrown everything 
among us. It is up to public esteem to establish the 
difference between evil and good men. The magistrate 
is judge only of rigorous right; but the people are the 


true judges of morals: an upright and even enlightened 
judge on this point, sometimes deceived but never cor¬ 
rupted. The ranks of citizens therefore ought to be 
regulated not upon their personal merit, which would 
be leaving to the magistrates the means of making an 
almost arbitrary application of the law, but upon the 
real services that they render to the State, which are 
susceptible of a more exact estimation. 94 

Editor’s Notes to the Second Discourse 

1. “Not in corrupt things, but in those which are well 
ordered in accordance with nature, should one consider 
that which is natural.” Politics i2 54“36-38 (Book I, 
chap. v). The context of this quotation (Aristotle’s dis¬ 
cussion of natural slavery) should be compared to the 
Social Contract, I, ii-iv. 

2. The dedication to the Republic of Geneva was 
written in 1754, and is dated from Chambery, where 
Rousseau stopped on his way to Geneva. His return to 
his native city was an event of particular importance for 
Rousseau; the prize-winning essayist was well received 
there, and on August 1, 1754, he returned to the Protes¬ 
tant faith and regained his Genevan citizenship. Since 
Rousseau was not formally a citizen of Geneva when the 
dedication was written, it was not strictly proper for him 
to speak as he does here. The style of the dedicatory 
epistle is marked by an often extravagant rhetoric, but 
beneath the glowing praise of Geneva Rousseau clearly 
delineates the requirements for the best regime a philos¬ 
opher could wish for. A complete analysis of this dedica¬ 
tion would indicate the extent to which these require¬ 
ments were not fulfilled by Geneva in the eighteenth 
century; indeed, a former First Syndic of Geneva wrote 
Rousseau: “You have followed the movements of your 
heart in the Dedicatory Epistle, and I fear it will be 
found that you flatter us too much; you represent us as 
we ought to be, and not as we are.” Correspondance 
Generate, II, 193. 

3. The “fatal misunderstandings” to which Rousseau 
refers were not merely a hypothetical possibility; the his¬ 
tory of Geneva had been marked by ill-feeling between 
the citizen body (who formed the Conseil General, the 



highest legally constituted legislative body) and the lead¬ 
ing magistrates (the Petit Conseil, composed of twenty- 
five members with life tenure, and the Conseil des Dcux- 
cents, elected by the Petit Conseil). In 1707 a conspiracy 
was quelled by the execution of its leader, Pierre Fatio; 
in 1737-38 a more serious conflict was settled only by the 
intervention and mediation of Zurich, Bern, and France. 
The reconciliation was far from “sincere and perpetual”: 
civil strife recurred in 1766-68 and in 1780-82, foreign 
powers playing an important role in the settlement on 
each occasion. For Rousseau’s own analysis of the consti¬ 
tution of Geneva as it stood after the act of Mediation of 
1738, see his Lettres Ecrites de la Montague, especially 

4. An indication of the irony of this passage may be in 
order. The Code of Political Edicts, which formed the 
constitutional basis of the Genevan government, was 
to have been published by the Petit Conseil according to 
the Act of Mediation of 1738; at the time of Rousseau’s 
writing the Edicts had not been published (nor, in fact, 
had they been published when the Mediating powers were 
again called in to arbitrate in 1766). See Vaughan, II, 

5. Having addressed his male fellow-citizens of Geneva, 
Rousseau now turns to the magistrates of the city. Note 
that while the citizens are addressed as “magnificent, 
most honored, and sovereign lords,” the magistrates arc 
only “magnificent and most honored lords”; they arc not 
sovereign. Compare Social Contract, III, i, and Lettres 
tlcrites de la Montague, vii. 

6. This flattering picture of Rousseau’s father is not 
the least of the exaggerated elements in tins Dedication. 
Isaac Rousseau was a proud, restless, headstrong indi¬ 
vidual who left Geneva a year after his marriage in order 
to make watches in Constantinople (where there was a 
“colony” of Swiss artisans). At his wife’s request, the 

editor’s notes/231 

elder Rousseau returned to Geneva in 1711; Jcan-Jacques 
was bom on June 28, 1712. Isaac Rousseau’s fun-loving 
and passionate nature was revealed in quarrels—caused 
by his penchant for hunting on the lands of Geneva’s more 
solid citizens—which came to the attention of the Con¬ 
sistory. The most important of these arguments, with one 
Pierre Gautier, led to a sword fight on the streets of 
Geneva, as a result of which the elder Rousseau fled the 
city to avoid prosecution. At this time (1724-25), the 
young Jean-Jacques went to live with the Pastor of Boissy, 
just outside Geneva; thereafter he was a none-too-diligent 
apprentice to several tradesmen of Geneva. Although Isaac 
Rousseau did introduce his son to Plutarch and the classics 
as well as to novels (see Confessions , Book I [Pleiade, I, 
9]), it can be wondered how many "wise lessons” Jean- 
Jacques received from a father who, having fled Geneva to 
avoid prosecution, virtually abandoned his twelve-year-old 
son and had little contact with him thereafter. See F. C. 
Green, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Cambridge: University 
Press, 1955), pp. 1-12, 36. 

7. “The aberrations of foolish youth” followed upon 
Rousseau’s disgust for the life of an apprentice engraver. 
One Sunday (March 14, 1728), returning to Geneva after 
a walk in the countryside, he found the gates of the city 
closed. To avoid the kind of beating previously received 
from his master for such misdeeds, Rousseau resolved to 
seek his fortune elsewhere. Thus began many years of 
wandering through Europe, during which Rousseau’s ex¬ 
periences were as bizarre as they were varied. Having been 
directed to Mme. de Warens, a Catholic proselytizer in 
Annecy, Rousseau was ultimately converted to Catholicism 
in Turin. Thereafter, Rousseau flitted from one occupa¬ 
tion to another: lackey, music-teacher knowing nothing 
of music, secretary to a somewhat fraudulent Greek 
Archimandrite seeking alms for the restoration of the 
Holy Sepulcher, lover of Mme. de Warens (twelve years 


his senior), clerk in a survey office, tutor, inventor of a 
revolutionary system of numerical musical notation, secre¬ 
tary to the French ambassador in Venice, composer, 
secretary to a wealthy tax-collector, etc. In the course of 
these extraordinary wanderings, Rousseau managed to edu¬ 
cate himself, and after he settled in Paris in 1744, he 
eked out an existence at the margin of French high 
society until he gained fame with the prize-winning First 
Discourse. During this period, Rousseau began to live 
with a simple linen-worker, Therese Levasseur, who bore 
him five children (all of whom, by Rousseau’s admission, 
were abandoned in a foundling home at their birth). 
Rousseau had good reason to speak of the “aberrations of 
foolish youth.” See Confessions, Books i-vii, and Green, 
Rousseau, chaps, i-iii. 

8. Compare notes 3 and 4 above. 

9. Here Rousseau turns from the civil magistrates of 
Geneva to its Protestant ministers. One should remember 
that in Calvinist Geneva, religion was of particular im¬ 
portance; “all religious questions, which were, of course, 
governmental questions, were examined by the Consistory 
composed of the pastors and twelve laymen." Daniel 
Mornet, Rousseau: Vhomme et Voeuvre (Paris: Ilatier- 
Boivin, 1950), p. 10. On the political role of religion, 
compare Social Contract, IV, viii. 

10. Rousseau now turns to the female citizens of Gen¬ 
eva (the word used here is “citoycnncs”). Note that, 
strictly speaking, the “citizens” were but one of the five 
classes in Geneva, and that the political rights of citizen¬ 
ship (holding the highest magistracies and voting in the 
Conscil General) were open only to males. For Rous¬ 
seau’s views on women, see timile, Book v. 

11. The inscription was “Know Thyself” ( gnothi 

12. The reference is to Plato’s Republic X.611. Note 
that for Rousseau the comparison of the human soul with 

editor’s NOTES/233 

the sea-god Glaucus illuminates the problem of discover¬ 
ing man’s “primitive state,” whereas for Plato the ques¬ 
tion is the proof of the immortality of the soul. 

13. Jean Jacques Burlamaqui, Principes du Droit Na- 
turel, I, i, § 2 (Geneva: Barillot & Fils, 1747), p- 2. 

14. “The law of nature is that which she has taught 
all animals; a law not peculiar to the human race, but 
shared by all living creatures, whether denizens of the air, 
the dry land, or the sea. Hence comes the union of male 
and female, which we call marriage; hence the procrea¬ 
tion and rearing of children, for this is a law by the 
knowledge of which we see even the lower animals are 
distinguished.” J. B. Moyle, trans., Institutes of Justinian 
I, ii, 1 (2nd ed.; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1889), p. 4. 
Compare the almost identical formulation of Ulpian 
quoted by Robert Derathe, Jean-Jacques Rousseau et la 
Science Politique de son Temps (Paris: Presses Uni- 
versitaires de France, 1950), p. 388. 

15. Rousseau here seems to refer both to modern jurists, 
like Grotius, Pufendorf, and Barbeyrac, and to Hobbes 
and Locke. But it is at least possible that Rousseau is 
thinking most particularly of the former; later in the 
Second Discourse (p. 129) Hobbes is explicitly dis¬ 
tinguished from “the moderns.” For the views of the 
“modem jurists,” see Hugo Grotius, Le Droit de la Guerre 
et de la Paix, I, i, § 11 (Jean Barbeyrac, trans. [Amster¬ 
dam: Pierre de Coup, 1724], pp. 52-53), and Samuel 
Pufendorf’s critique of the notion of natural law in the 
works of Spinoza and Hobbes in Le Droit de la Nature et 
des Gens, II, ii, esp. § 3 and 9 (Jean Barbeyrac, trans. 
[Amsterdam: Gerard Kuyper, 1706], pp. 140-44, 150-52). 
Compare Pufendorf’s definition of natural law (ibid., II, 
iii) with Hobbes’s distinction between “rights of nature” 
and “laws of nature” ( Leviathan, I, xiii-xiv). Compare 
also Burlamaqui, Principes du Droit Naturel, II, i, § 2 
(ed. 1747, p. 142). 

234 /second discourse 

16. Compare Pufcndorf, who considered “sociability” to 
be “the fundamental law of natural right.” Le Droit de 
la Nature et des Gens, II, iii, § 15 (ed. 1706, I, 178). 

17. “Learn whom God has ordered you to be, and in 
what part of human affairs you have been placed.” 
Pcrsius, Satires iii. 71-72. Compare Pufendorf’s use of this 
passage and the Delphic inscription “Know Thyself” in 
Le Droit de la Nature et des Gens, II, iv, § 5 (ed. 1706, 
I, 210). 

18. Elsewhere Rousseau insists on the necessity of read¬ 
ing his books at least twice, which implies that these notes 
are absolutely essential if one is to understand the Second 
Discourse fully. Rousseau Juge de Jean-Jacques, Dialogue 
iii (Pleiade, I, 932-33). Note also that this passage of the 
Dialogues, by suggesting that Rousseau’s works develop 
his principles in an order which “was retrograde to that 
of their publication,” indicates the Discourses are the 
most complex formulation of Rousseau’s thought. 

19. Compare the question proposed by the Academy 
of Dijon with the formulation adopted by Rousseau: 
reference to the authorization of inequality by natural 
law is replaced by the “foundations” of inequality. 

20. Rousseau’s phrase is “des qualites de l’esprit 011 de 
lame.” At the risk of narrowing the meaning somewhat, 
the word esprit will always be translated “mind” even 
though it can mean “spirit” or “soul”; dmc will be 
rendered by “soul.” Compare this list of the natural in¬ 
equalities among men with the qualities which first give 
rise to esteem in savage society (p. 149) and with the 
qualities which determine the “rank and fate of each 
man” once man has been perfected and civilized (p. 155). 

21. This phrase is ambiguous, perhaps intentionally. 
Although Aristotle speaks of the analogy between the 
claws of animals and the nails of men, l am unable to 
find any passage in which he suggests that the latter 
evolved out of the former. See Parts of Animals, 6S-j b 2y 

editor’s NOTES/235 

25 and 690 b 8-n (IV, x), (A. L. Peck, trans. [Loeb 
Classical Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 
1 937 ]» PP- 375 ’ 39 1 )’ an< ^ History of Animals, 486 b 2o 
(I, i), 502 b i-5 (II, viii), and 5i7 , 30- b i (III, ix), (D’Arcy 
Wentworth Thompson, trans. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 
1910]). Even a cursor)’ reading of these works reveals 
the gulf between Aristotle’s biological method, which 
assumes that each species is naturally distinct, and the 
radically evolutionary approach of Rousseau. For example, 
Aristotle asserts that man stands erect on two feet be¬ 
cause “his nature and essence is divine” ( Parts of Ani¬ 
mals, 686*27-30 [IV, x]); nature forms each species in 
terms of its end or perfection. For Rousseau, it is dis¬ 
tinctly possible that the human species has evolved from a 
stage in which man was a quadruped, and this hypoth¬ 
esis can only be rejected after the kind of physiological 
and biological analysis outlined in his note (c). 

22. “So that in the first place, I put for a general incli¬ 
nation of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire for 
power after power, that ceaseth only in death.” Hobbes, 
Leviathan, I, xi. Compare ibid., I, xiii-xiv. 

23. See Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws, I, ii. 
Compare Pufendorf, Le Droit de la Nature et des Gens, 
II, i, § 8 and II, ii, § 2, as well as II, iii, § 16, where 
Barbeyrac quotes Cumberland (ed. 1706, I, 135, 137, 
and 182, n. 2). See also Richard Cumberland, De Legibus 
Natures, ii, § 29 (London: Nathanael Hooke, 1672), pp. 

24. See Republic 111.403d ff, and compare Homer, 
Iliad XI. 639-40. 

25. Compare Aristotle’s view that “tame animals have 
a better nature than wild.” Politics i2t;4 b io (I, ii). 

26. Rousseau here cites Montaigne’s “Of the Inequality 
Among Us” [Essays, I, xlii): “Plutarch says somewhere 
that he does not find so great a difference between one 
beast and another as he does between one man and an- 

236 /second discourse 

other ... I shall gladly improve on Plutarch, and say 
that there is more difference between a given man and 
another than between a given man and a given beast.” 
For another translation, sec Zcitlin, I, 226. Montaigne’s 
reference is to Plutarch’s “That Beasts Use Reason,” an 
essay cited by Rousseau in the Social Contract, I, ii. 

27. Mere Rousseau compares the development of the 
arts in Sparta (which was on the banks of the Eurotas 
river) and Athens. Compare First Discourse, p. 43. 

28. Rousseau here alludes to the Academic frangaise, 
which perpetually revises its Dictionary' of the French 
language. Compare this slighting reference to the academ¬ 
ies with the First Discourse, p. 59. 

29. Note that, in this paragraph, Rousseau implies that 
Hobbes has established the correct definition of natural 
right, but that he has reasoned improperly concerning the 
implications of this definition. Compare the Preface of 
this Discourse (p. 94). 

30. “To such an extent has ignorance of vices been 
more profitable to them [the Scythians] than the under¬ 
standing of virtue to these [the Greeks].” Justin, Histories, 
II, ii. Although Rousseau is here silent about the con¬ 
text of the quotation, compare First Discourse, pp. 41-42, 
51 with Justin’s praise of the Scythians in Book II of his 
Histories. Compare Grotius, Le Droit de la Guerre et de la 
Paix, II, ii, § 2 (cd. 1724, p. 224). 

31. The French term, here and throughout translated 
as “vanity,” is amour-propre. L’Amour de soi-meme, 
which Rousseau distinguishes sharply from amour-propre, 
will be translated as “love of oneself.” Compare the use of 
the term amour-propre in Barbcyrac’s translation of Pufen- 
dorf, Le Droit de la Nature et des Gens, II, iii, esp. § 14 
and 16 (cd. 1706, I, 176-77, 183). 

32. As the sequel shows, this “detractor” is Bernard 
Mandevillc, whose Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, 
Public Benefits (1714) attempts to show that every virtue 

editor’s notes/237 

is fundamentally based upon selfishness and private vice. In 
that work Mandeville says, speaking of charity: “This 
virtue is often counterfeited by a Passion of ours, call’d 
Pity or Compassion, which consists in a Fellow-feeling and 
Condolence for the Misfortunes and Calamities of others: 
all Mankind are more or less affected with it; but the 
weakest minds generally the most.” See F. B. Kaye, ed., 
The Fable of the Bees (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924), 
p. 287. 

33. This example from The Fable of the Bees is followed 
by the comment: “There would be no need of Virtue or 
Self-Denial to be moved at such a Scene; and not only a 
man of humanity, of good Morals and Commiseration, but 
likewise an Highwayman, an House-Breaker, or a Murderer 
could feel Anxieties on such an occasion.” Ibid., pp. 288-89. 
Mandeville’s point is that pity is not truly a virtue, which 
he defines as “every' Performance by which Man, contrary 
to the impulse of Nature, should endeavor the Benefit of 
others, or the Conquest of his own Passions out of a 
Rational Ambition of being good.” Ibid., p. 34. Despite his 
apparent attack on Mandeville, Rousseau agrees that pity 
is not a virtue in this sense; as is clear in the sequel, 
Rousseau considers pity to be a prerational impulse w'hich 
does not override man’s natural inclination to preserve 
himself should the tw’O basic natural principles conflict. 
Compare Preface, Second Discourse (pp. 95-96), noting 
the qualification on the operation of natural pity. 

34. Lucius Cornelius Sulla or Sylla (138-78 B.C.), a 
Roman general and politician w ; ho, having been victorious 
in a civil war, became the dictator of Rome. From this 
position he proscribed and killed many of those who were 
opposed to him. See Plutarch’s Lives, “Sulla,” II, VI, xxx- 
xxxi (Bernadotte Perrin, trans. [Loeb Classical Library'; 
Cambridge: Plarvard University Press, 1916], IV, 327-29, 

35. Compare Montaigne’s reference to the story in 

238 /second discourse 

“Cowardice the Mother of Cruelty” (Essays, II. xxvii): 
“Alexander, Tyrant of Phcrae, could not bear to listen to 
tragedies presented at the theater for fear that his citizens 
would see him moan at the misfortunes of Hecuba and 
Andromache—he who, without pity, had so many people 
cruelly murdered daily.” In Zeitlin’s edition, the passage 
is at II, 348. The basic source is Plutarch’s Lives, “Pelo- 
pidas” XXIX (Bemadotte Perrin, trails. [Loeb Classical 
Library; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1917], V, 

4 1 3 ' 1 5 ) • 

36. Translated freely: “Nature, who gave men tears, 
confesses she gives the human race most tender hearts.” 
Juvenal, Satires XV. 131-33. This satire tells of the rivalry 
of the “Ombites” and the “Tentyrites” in Egypt. Religious 
differences and unbounded hatred lead the Tentyrites to 
eat their enemies for sheer pleasure. Juvenal then describes 
some extraordinarily violent deeds that did not lead to 
cannibalism for the sake of mere enjoyment; on the basis 
of these examples he concludes that pity is natural to man. 

37. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 
IV, iii, § 18; Rousseau uses the translation of Pierre Coste, 
which appeared under the title Essai Philosophique Con- 
cernant I’Entendement Humain (Revised ed.; Amsterdam: 
Henri Schelte, 1723), p. 698. Locke’s “axiom” is also cited 
by Barbeyrac in his Translator’s Preface to Pufendorf’s 
Le Droit de la Nature et des Gens, § 2. (ed. 1706, I, v). 
While the French translation of Locke reads: “II ne 
sauroit y avoir de Vinjustice oil il n’y a point dc propri6t6,” 
Rousseau inserts “d’injure” where the translation, following 
the original, says “de Vinjustice.” Compare Hobbes, 
Leviathan, I, xv. Rousseau’s citation of Locke has an ele¬ 
ment of irony because, to this point in Rousseau’s argu¬ 
ment, there exists only “a sort of property”—i.c., mere 
possession without any legal sanction. ’Phe origin of 
property in the complete sense of the word docs not occur, 
according to Rousseau, until the division of labor has led 

editor’s notes/ 239 

men to the brink of civil society. Compare pp. 139 and 
146 with pp. 151 and 154. 

38. Compare Lucretius, De Rerum Natura V. 1113- 
1135; 1241-1296. As has often been noted, Lucretius’ 
poem, expounding Epicurean philosophy, served as a model 
for Rousseau’s Second Discourse. On the civilizing role of 
gold and silver, see also Locke, Second Treatise, chap, v, 
esp. § 50. 

39. See Grotius, he Droit de la Guerre et de la Paix, II, 
ii, § 2. (ed. 1724, p. 228). Pufendorf gives a different in¬ 
terpretation of this formula, Le Droit de la Nature et des 
Gens, IV, iv, § 13 (ed. 1706, I, 463). Compare Rousseau’s 
presentation of a “labor theory of value” as the basis of all 
property rights with Locke’s Second Treatise, chap. v. Note 
also that a goddess is the source of laws whose purpose is 
the protection of property, and that these laws create a 
“new kind of right”; it appears that gods are introduced 
by men to sanctify private property (which would otherwise 
be insecure). Compare Lucretius, De Rerum Natura, V. 

40. Compare the second sentence of the Social Contract, 
I, i: “One who thinks himself the master of others does 
not fail to be more of a slave than they.” 

41. “Shocked by the newness of the ill, rich and yet 
wretched, he seeks to run away from his wealth and hates 
what he once prayed for.” Ovid, Metamorphoses XI. 
127-28. The quotation describes the condition of Midas 
after Bacchus has granted his wish that everything he 
touch turn to gold. 

42. Compare this passage with the apparent criticism 
of philosophers for their isolation from the common people 
(p. 132). 

43. Since Rousseau has just discussed one form of this 
“supposition”—i.e., the argument that societies are formed 
by conquest—the remark is ironic. 

44. See Pliny the Younger, Panegyricus LV, 7. 

240 /second discourse 

45. Compare note (p), pp. 223-24. 

46. “The most wretched servitude they call peace.” In 
Tacitus, Histories IV, xvii, the efforts of Civilis to incite 
the Gauls to revolt against Rome arc described; Civilis 
“warned them in secret speeches of those evils they had 
suffered for so many years, while a wretched servitude they 
falsely called peace ( miseratn servitutem falso pacem 
vocarent ).” Rousseau’s citation of this phrase follows the 
version of Algernon Sidney, Discourses Concerning Gov¬ 
ernment, chap, ii, § 15 (London: Booksellers of London 
and Westminster, 1698), p. 125. 

47. See Locke, First Treatise, chaps, ii. vi, vii, ix, and 
Second Treatise, chap, vi; and Sidney, Discourses Con¬ 
cerning Government, chap, i, § 6-20; chap. ii. § 2-4; and 
chap, iii, § 1. 

48. The work in question is the Traite des Droits de la 
Reine tres Chretienne sur divers Etats de la Monarchic 
d’Espagne, an attempt to justify Louis XIV's dubious 
claims to certain Spanish possessions—claims which served 
as the basis of the War of Devolution (1667-68). By 
referring to an example of the Sun King’s flagrantly expan¬ 
sionist policy, Rousseau again “damns with false praise” 
(compare First Discourse, editorial note 49). Lest this 
interpretation of Rousseau’s quotation be thought ten¬ 
dentious, Sidney used this passage of the Traite dcs Droits 
de la Reine to criticize absolute monarchy; sec Discourses 
Concerning Government, chap, ii, § 30 (cd. 1698, p. 235). 
Barbeyrac also pointed out the irony of this profession of 
limited authority by Louis XIV in his translation of 
Pufcndorf, Le Droit de la Nature et dcs Gens, VII, vi, § 
10, n.i (cd. 1706, II, 273). 

49. Ibid., VII, viii, § 6, n. 2 (cd. 1706, II. 302). For 
the original, see Locke, Second Treatise, chap, iv, § 23. It 
is not an accident that, instead of quoting Locke directly, 
Rousseau cites (and is willing to neglect) the “authority 
of Barbeyrac”; compare Rousseau’s remarks on the author¬ 
itative character of Barbeyrac in the Social Contract, II, ii. 

editor’s NOTES/241 

50. Pufendorf, Le Droit de la Nature et des Gens , VII, 
iii, §1 and vi, §5 (ed. 1706, II, 223, 265-66). Cf. Grotius, 
Le Droit de la Guerre et de la Paix, I, iii, §8 (ed. 1724, 
pp. 121-24). 

51. Note the tentative character of Rousseau’s remarks 
concerning the social contract, and compare the “common 
opinion” to which he here restricts himself with the formu¬ 
lations of Hobbes’s Leviathan , II, xvii-xviii, and Locke’s 
Second Treatise, chaps, viii (esp. § 95-98) and xix. Rous¬ 
seau implicitly distinguishes the “fundamental compact of 
all governments” from the original bond of a society with¬ 
out a government—those “general conventions which all 
individuals pledged to observe, and regarding which the 
community became the guarantor for each individual” 
(p. 163). Compare the “common opinion” which Rous¬ 
seau claims he is “following” with the “supposition which 
does not permit of serious debate” (ibid.). 

52. Compare this preliminary discussion of the relation¬ 
ship between the magistrates and the laws produced by the 
“single will” of the people with the concept of the “general 
will” and the subordination of the “government” to 
the “sovereign” in the Social Contract, esp. I, vi-vii; II, 
i-vi; and III, i. 

53. Note the implication that religion has served to 
protect illegitimate government from overthrow, and com¬ 
pare Rousseau’s remarks on religion in the Social Contract , 
esp. II, vii and IV, viii. 

54. The French word seigneur is derived from the Latin 
word senior, the comparative of senex (old); “the authority 
accorded to age made the meaning of old man shift to that 
of seigneur.” E. Littr6, Dictionnaire de la Langue 
Frangaise (Paris: Hachette, 1869), Il-ii, 1953. 

55. Compare V. I. Lenin, Imperialism, esp. chaps, viii 
and x. 

56. “If it is in my brother’s breast that you order me 
to sink my sword, or in my father’s throat, or even in the 
unborn child in my pregnant wife’s womb, I shall do it all, 

242 /second discourse 

even if my right hand is unwilling.” Lucan, Pharsalia I. 
376-78. In this passage, Laelius is answering Caesar’s cry 
to march on Rome, and in so doing overcomes the doubts 
of the soldiers. As Vaughan points out (I, 193, n. 3), 
Rousseau substitutes gravidceque for plenceque ; the same 
substitution will be found in the citation of this passage by 
Sidney, Discourses Concerning Government, chap, ii, § 
19 (ed. 1698, p. 147). 

57. “In which there is no hope to be derived from an 
honorable deed,” a variant of a phrase in Tacitus ( pauci , 
quis nulla ex honesto spes), Annals V, iii. Compare Sidney, 
Discourses Concerning Government, chap, ii, § 20, where 
the phrase quibus ex honesto nulla est spes is used (cd. 
1698, p. 150). 

58. Compare Montaigne, “Of Cannibals,” Essays, I, 
xxxi (Zeitlin, I, 190). 

59. See Herodotus, Histories, III, 83. “Then Otanes, 
his proposal to give the Persians equality being defeated, 
thus spoke among them all: ‘Friends and partisans! Seeing 
that it is plain that one of us must be made king (whether 
by lot, or by our suffering the people of Persia to choose 
whom they wall, or in some other way), know that I will 
not enter the lists with you; I desire neither to rule nor to 
be ruled; but if I waive my claim to be king, I make this 
condition, that neither I nor any of my posterity shall be 
subject to any one of you.’ To these terms the six others 
agreed; Otanes took no part in the contest but stood aside; 
and to this day his house (and none other in Persia) re¬ 
mains free, nor is compelled to render any unwilling 
obedience, so long as it transgresses no Persian law.” A. D. 
Godlcy, trails. (Locb Classical Library; Cambridge: 
Harvard University Press, 1938), II, iii. 

60. Note that Rousseau here assumes that it is logically 
necessary for the binding power of law to be general. 
Compare Social Contract, csp. I, vi and II, iv. Hence this 
remark also implies the distinction between the laws, which 

editor’s notes/ 243 

are enacted by the Sovereign, and decrees or other applica¬ 
tions of the law by the Government or Prince (see ibid., 
II, v; and III, i). 

61. Compare Herodotus, Histories, III, 141, 147, 149. 

62. This passage from Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle, De 
la nature de Vhomme, implies the validity of modem 
natural science as an “authority” for philosophy, at least 
insofar as its reasoning is “solid and sublime.” Note the 
character of Rousseau’s remaining notes. Rousseau refers 
to the edition of the Histoire Naturelle, Generale et 
Particuliere in 12 0 (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1752, re¬ 
printed in 1774), IV, 151-152. Vaughan also makes refer¬ 
ence to the edition in 4 0 (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1749, 
second edition 1750), II, 429-30. 

63. fitienne Bonnot de Condillac, Essai sur VOrigine 
des Connoissances Humaines, I, iv, chap, ii, § 23 (2 vols.; 
Amsterdam: Pierre Mortier, 1746), I, 202-3. 

64. Note the radical character of Rousseau’s analysis of 
man’s natural condition and his use of empirical examples 
of humans bom outside of society (i.e., in a “true” state 
of nature). Compare editorial note 21 to the Second 

65. The Northwest Division of Arabia (extending along 
the Red Sea from the Gulf of Akabah to about the parallel 
of 20 North Latitude, and including Mecca and Medina). 

66. Buffon, Histoire Naturelle, Generale et Particuliere, 
Preuves de la theorie de la terre, art. 7 (2nd ed. in 4 0 , 
1750), I, 242-43. 

67. A Fourth Century disciple of Aristotle known as a 
historian and geographer; few fragments of his works are 

68. St. Jerome, Against Jovinianus, II, § 13. Rousseau 
omits the equation, in the original, of the reign of Saturn 
with the Golden Age. See Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, 
eds., A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers 
of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Chris- 


tian Literature Co., 1893), VI, 397. This sentence was 
cited by Barbeyrac in his translation of Grotius, Le Droit 
de la Guerre et de la Paix, II, ii, § 2, n. 13 (cd. 1724, p. 
225). Compare the two discourses “On Eating Meat” in 
Plutarch’s Moralia. 

69. Compare note (/) pp. 207-13. 

70. Antoine Francois Provost, ed., Histoire Generate des 
Voyages (20 vols.; Paris: Didot, 1746-91), V, 157. The 
first seven volumes of this compendium were a translation 
of John Green’s A New General Collection of Voyages 
and Travels (London: T. Astley, 1745-47). The passage 
quoted here is a paraphrase of Peter Kolben (or Pierre 
Kolbc), Description du Cap de Bonne-Esperance, I, xxiii, 
§ 7-8 (3 vols.; Amsterdam: Jean Catuffe, 1742), I, 396-99. 
According to the sources, the Hottentots swim with their 
neck (col) upright, not their body (corps). 

71. Histoire Generate des Voyages, V, 155-56. In both 
quotations from this work, Rousseau omits remarks which 
are not relevant to his point. The original source is Kolben, 
Description du Cap de Bonne-Esperance, I, vi, § 14 (I, 
99-100) and I, xi, § 10 (I, 195-97). 

72. The work in question is Observations sur Vllistoire 
Naturelle, sur la Physique, et sur la Pcinture, a periodical 
first published in Paris in 1752 under the editorship of 
Jacques Gautier d’Agoty. 

73. Buffon, Histoire Naturelle, Generate et Particulidre, 
Histoire naturelle du cheval (2nd Ed. in 4 0 , 1750), IV, 

74. On this entire note, compare Rousseau’s Letter to 
Voltaire, 18 August 1756, Correspondatice Generate, II, 
303-9. In this letter Rousseau also argues that all nature 
follows regular laws, which could conceivably be under¬ 
stood by means of modern science (ibid., pp. 309-14). 

75. See Montaigne, “The Profit of One Man is the 
Damage of Another,” Essays, I, xxii (Zcitlin, I. 91). 

76. See Rousseau’s L’dtat de guerre (Vaughan, I, 

editor’s notes/ 245 

77. Compare Montesquieu, Persian Letters, cxii-cxxii, 
and Spirit of the Laws, XXIII, esp. xv-xxviii. 

78. I.e., those who claim descent from a divinely in¬ 
spired ancestor like Abraham—hence, most particularly, 
those believing in the Judeo-Christian (and Moslem) 

79. This obscure phrase implies that for some men re¬ 
ligion is respectable only because it serves the necessary 
social function of making conventional morality appear to 
be divinely ordained (and not because man’s first ancestor 
was, like Adam in the Garden of Eden, truly moral). 
Compare Machiavelli, Discourses on Titus Livy, I, xi. 

80. This long note summarizes some of the main themes 
of the First Discourse, to which it should be compared. 
Rousseau’s denial that he intends to lead men back into 
the forests should be emphasized; the state of nature 
provides a standard for judging civil society, but not a 
practical and generally applicable prescription for reform. 

81. Histoire Generate des Voyages, V, 87-89. 

82. With great delicacy, Rousseau here proposes the 
experimental cross-breeding of orangutans and humans as 
a possible proof of the status of the former as men in the 
pure state of nature. Rousseau thereby suggests one pos¬ 
sible solution to the task ascribed to the “Aristotles and 
Plinys of our century” in the Preface to the Second Dis¬ 
course (above, p. 93). 

83. Compare Aristotle’s Politics 1253*3-5 (I, ii): “He 
who is without a polis, by reason of his own nature and 
not of some accident, is either a poor sort of being, or a 
being higher than man . . .” Ernest Barker, trans. (Ox¬ 
ford: Clarendon Press, 1946), p. 5. 

84. See the passage of Condillac’s Essai sur VOrigine 
des Connoissances Humaines cited above, note 63. 

85. This long note indicates clearly the extent to which 
modern anthropology and the comparative study of cultures 
and politics may be said to derive from the theoretical 
position set forth by Rousseau. 

246 / second discourse 

86. In the following passage, Rousseau transcribes an 
anonymous French translation of Locke’s Second Treatise, 
chap, vii, § 79-80. Here Locke’s English is quoted, follow¬ 
ing the second edition (London: Awnsham and John 
Churchill, 1694), pp. 224-25. Where the original differs 
from the French translation used by Rousseau, the latter 
is followed. 

87. This distinction between the natural process of a 
child’s development and existing patterns of education in 
society is obviously the root of Rousseau’s conception of a 
natural education as it is developed in Emile. 

88. This long note, with its criticism of Locke, and the 
text to which it is appended clearly deny the natural status 
of the human family. Rousseau elsewhere took a less 
extreme view, more closely parallel to Locke’s. “The most 
ancient of all societies, and the only natural one, is that of 
the family. Even so, the children only remain bound to 
their father for as long as they have need of him for their 
self-preservation. As soon as this need ceases, the natural 
bond is dissolved. The children exempt from the obedience 
they owed their father, the father exempt from the 
cares lie owed his children, all return equally to independ¬ 
ence. If they continue to remain united, it is no longer 
naturally, but voluntarily; and the family itself is only 
maintained by convention.” Social Contract, I, ii. Compare 
also Emile, v (Hachettc, II, 401), where Rousseau implies 
that there may be a “kind of marriage’ by nature. 

89. “Nor would anything of the happiness of the human 
race disappear if, when the crowd and confusion of so 
many languages has been expelled, [all] mortals should 
cultivate [this] one art and if it should be permitted to 
explain anything with signs, movements, and actions. But 
now it has so been established that the condition of animals 
that arc popularly believed to be brutes is far better than 
ours in this regard, inasmuch as they indicate their feelings 
and thoughts without an interpreter more readily and 

editor's notes / 247 

perhaps more happily than any mortals can, especially if 
they use a foreign language.” Isaac Vossius, De Poematum 
Cantu et Viribus Rythmi (Oxford: Theatro Sheldoniano, 
1673), PP- 65-66. The words in brackets are omitted in 
Rousseau’s quotation of the original. 

90. Plato, Republic, VII. 522. Plato’s discussion of the 
relationship between the science of numbers and philo¬ 
sophic speculation is highly relevant to Rousseau’s argu¬ 
ment in this note. 

91. Reproduced p. 76. 

92. The original source of the story is Kolben, Descrip¬ 
tion du Cap de Bonne-Esperance, I, xii, § 11 (ed. 1742, I, 

2 34 ' 35 ) • 

93. Isocrates, Areopagitica, 21-22. See George Norlin, 
trans., Isocrates (Loeb Classical Library; London: William 
Heinemann, 1929), II, 117. 

94. This note is of particular importance. On the one 
hand, Rousseau criticizes Hobbes’s rejection of the classical 
conception of “distributive justice,” while on the other he 
seeks to limit the role of law to the establishment of 
perfectly general and impersonal standards. The classical 
view that all regimes are based on a principle of distributive 
justice—i.e., a principle of rewarding personal merit by 
“distinguishing and favoring” individuals in proportion to 
their intrinsic worth—is set forth most clearly in Book V 
of Aristotle’s Ethics, ii30 b 30-ii3i b 24. Aristotle distin¬ 
guishes between such “distributive justice,” in which 
awards are made “according to merit,” and “commutative” 
or “rcctificatory justice”: the latter treats all men as equal 
and merely attempts to correct or punish specific actions 
regardless of the personal merits of the individuals in 
question. In Chapter xv of the Leviathan, Hobbes ex¬ 
plicitly criticizes the classical distinction, arguing that the 
reward for merit “is not due by justice; but is rewarded of 
grace only”—i.e., the only relevant standard in political 
life is commutative justice, which treats every subject of 

248 / second discourse 

the laws equally regardless of Ins personal worth. Rousseau, 
after quoting from Isocrates, asserts that standards of 
distributive justice are necessarily present in all societies, 
however corrupt, but he diverges sharply from the classical 
view by limiting the scope of legal provisions to actions. 
The resulting distinction between “morals” and “right” 
or “law,” which characterizes modern thought generally, 
presupposes that laws can never be used as the basis of 
rewards for personal virtue. Whereas other modern political 
philosophers tended to reject the classical standard of 
virtue (thereby rejecting distributive justice in favor of 
commutative justice as the basis of the political order), 
Rousseau attempted to use modern principles in order to 
found a political society in which the classical notion of 
virtue might still have a place. Compare Social Contract, 
IV, vii. 


88 87 86 85 84 83 82